Black musicians and piracy: Friends or foes?

Lord 'Black Jesus' Harrison of the group Harlem 6 says artists must make a deal with the devil: online piracy. (Credit: Greg Sandoval/CNET)

From CNET:

An NPD study indicates that black Americans are more likely to listen to pirated music. Should black musicians care?

NEW YORK — The sun has just come up outside the hallowed Apollo Theater in Harlem, and Lord “Black Jesus” Harrison is doing what he often does on Saturdays: selling CDs of his rap group, Harlem 6.

Lord ‘Black Jesus’ Harrison of the group Harlem 6 says artists must make a deal with the devil: online piracy.

As his eyes scan the street for potential buyers, Harrison is talking piracy now, and his rapid-fire speech slows to hammer home each point.

“I take the good and the bad, man. You know?” Harrison said. “On the negative side, [music pirates] stole some money, but on the positive side, it was good promotion. You get people out there downloading your tracks, and they know who you are. [Napster] robbed us, but at the same time they made their billions, maybe thousands more people got to know who I am.”

The good and the bad: You get ripped off by illegal file sharing, but maybe you get more attention, and that gets people to your shows and buying your music legally. It’s a common refrain among musicians over the last 12 years. For every Metallica or Prince railing against piracy, there’s a Trent Reznor or 50 Cent willing to experiment with new means of distribution.

But a likely to be controversial study puts a surprising racial spin on the great piracy debate. The NPD Group conducts an annual survey that looks at how consumers interact with music. Russ Crupnick, NPD’s senior industry analyst, said last night that 14 percent of people surveyed — regardless of race — acknowledged downloading at least one song file illegally. Among people who identified themselves as black, however, the number rises to 21 percent.

So what does that mean to black musicians, who are more likely than not to be selling music to a black audience? The answer, as with anything else to do with race, is complicated, fungible, prone to stereotype, and maybe just unanswerable.

That doesn’t mean that some people haven’t been taking swings at the tricky racial questions, even before the NPD survey came out.

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