One Secret Behind My Awesome And Incredible Frugality

Last week I was at Hastings and as usual when I am there, I browse through the CD section. As I sauntered through the aisles trying to curb my CD buying habit, but still wanting to at least tempt myself. Who knows? I might find something I “need.”

All of a sudden I stopped short. There was a Jason Mraz CD*. I could really use this. I had heard only one of his songs, his hit, I’m Yours. It was acoustic and kind of catchy and the King’s Singers even covered it on one of their albums. I was in a dilemma though. I didn’t really feel like spending the money on it.

Strange, but I didn’t really stop to filter the irrational thoughts that were going through my head. Surely it wouldn’t be a problem if I just sort of took it. That was probably the only good song on the CD anyway and if he was going to make a record with only one good song on it, he deserved to have the rest of it stolen.

It was on the bottom shelf so I bent down over it and pretended to tie my shoe. Grabbing it in my teeth, I carefully dropped it on the floor. In front of myself and still stooping over, I put it in my Quicksilver hoodie pocket. No one saw me and my body easily concealed my actions from the security camera. I causally walked out the door.

That evening I ripped the CD to my computer and I was right. There was only one good song on the entire CD. I felt very good about myself for being so frugal and wise with my money. My parents had always taught me about good stewardship with money and I’m sure they are proud of me for this particular application of their teaching. I had the whole album on my iPod but I never listened to any of the songs except that one. After all, I wouldn’t have boughten the CD anyway, so in my mind that made it okay.

Besides, the record company would have gotten most of the money anyway. They are already so filthy rich they probably don’t even care anyway. They probably like it actually because it gets their name out there, it and probably promotes the album if I tell my friends about it. It makes the music more popular even if they don’t get a red cent from it. That’s a good thing, right?

I also think I might remember a verse in Nimrod 5:10 saying that it’s okay to steal from people if they are really rich. Score one for frugality and beating the system!

*          *         *          *

Okay, so that story was completely false but I think you get the point. I would say piracy of digital media (especially by Christians) is one of my biggest pet peeves. I have a very serious problem with that; perhaps in part because being a musician would be one my dream jobs. I used to share some music and rip friends’ music to my library, but eventually it was ridiculous to try to justify it.

Since most of the people who read my blog are Christians, I feel I can appeal to not only to the side of respecting the artists, but also the morality side of taking digital media without paying for it. I won’t bother appealing to the fact that it’s illegal. Laws are for the lawless and that shouldn’t describe Christians.

Pirating and sharing digital media is not funny, cool, or clever. It’s stealing from those that have the creativity to produce it. Be it music, movies, software, or photos, the people who work to create the product should receive the money that is due them.

I have a big problem with people who say they are Christians who think it would be wrong to shoplift, but think its okay to share and download copyrighted media without paying the rightful owners of the copyright. It doesn’t matter if it’s easy or not. It doesn’t matter if file sharing sites and willing friends make it simple. A petty theft is no more right than a mastermind bank robbery. They are both stealing.

If you think the music is worth having, than you should be willing to pay the artist for it. It’s that simple. They went to a lot of time and effort to produce it and they should be able to get the profits from it. If you don’t like it well enough to pay for it, then don’t buy it. Just don’t steal it either. No one is forcing you to have music you don’t like very well on your iPod. That doesn’t even make sense anyway. If music is not worth buying, it is probably not worth having at all.

There are plenty of ways to listen to music you like without stealing it. Internet services such as Pandora,, and Spotify are good ways for casual listeners to listen to music they like if they don’t care to have it in their library.

You expect a paycheck when you work from seven to five. They expect a paycheck when their product hits the shelves and every time someone buys it. If they are very successful with their art, they get more money. If you are successful and do well at your job, you expect more money. At least that’s how it should be. The copyright on that art says that they have the right to profit from, in the case of recording artists, that particular combination of sounds.

A lot of artists are getting robbed because people are not willing to pay for the music they like. If you buy a CD and share it with ten friends, that’s around one hundred dollars that is not making into the hands that deserve it.

Furthermore, if unbelievers are stealing digital media and their Christian friends are doing that as well, don’t you think that will cause them at the very least to question their testimony? I realize that it is so easy and in some ways a little intangible, and I used to dismiss it too. It was so convenient and nearly everyone else did it, but we really need to think seriously about what effect our actions have.

Respect the artists, software designers, film makers, and photographers who make the art you like and pay them what you owe them. They make the world a better place with their art. Yes, the world would be somewhat boring and uninspiring without anyone creating any art. Think! No music, no paintings. . . The list could go on.

Artists have chosen the arts as their means to make money. Most of them are doing what they love but they have to make a living too. Struggling artists need a paycheck just as badly as you do and might even work a second job to make ends meet. Successful artists have worked hard to succeed in one of the most competitive lines of work, to make so their art is top notch. At both ends of the spectrum they should get profit from their work.

If you like their art well enough to own it, buy it. If you don’t, make your own. Just don’t steal other people’s paychecks because you’re too tight to and selfish to buy from them. At best, it’s unethical. At worst, it’s robbery, plain and simple.

*No insult to Jason Mraz intended. I really know very little about him except for his one song. He was simply the most convenient artist to pick on at the moment.


9 comments on “One Secret Behind My Awesome And Incredible Frugality

  1. Eugene says:

    I hear you – but the picture is a bit murkier than you portray.

    1. If I shoplift a loaf of bread, the store owner no longer has the bread to sell to the next person. If I make a digital copy of a piece of music, the original is still there. Physical analogies aren’t actually good decision-making guides when dealing with digital media.

    2. Precious little of the money you pay for a CD goes to the artist. With a high-end royalty deal, an artist may make $1.00 per disc; with a low-end deal, that figure is $0.30. Take the music online and it’s even worse – $0.94 for an iTunes album, and $0.09 for an iTunes single.

    By comparison, the record label makes $5.35 from an iTunes album and $0.53 from an iTunes single.

    (information courtesy of

    3. The artist makes no money from used CD purchases. (which, by the way, is why some recording industry folks hate used CDs – they don’t make their cut either)

    I agree with your conclusion: if art is valuable to me, I should pay for it. But I think that the state of the entertainment industry (promote massive amounts of crap subsidized by a few blockbusters) is doing much more to devalue art than file sharing is.

    In fact, I’d argue that file sharing is a symptom, not a cause, of the problem.

    • rjshetler says:

      I agree. My illustration has its limitations. But, if everyone would decide they want to pirate digital media, there would be no ability to profit. While the physical data is still there, there is only an ability to profit from it so long as long as people are willing to pay for it. If people aren’t willing to pay for it then it’s basically the same even though the actual physical data isn’t being removed from their possession. Just because I’m not physically taking it does not make it any less wrong. They are still losing money and the more people who take that approach, the more they lose. It doesn’t sound that bad when you go per song. But when you start going by the thousands and thousands of songs pirated by people all over the world, those dollar totals start coming out to a fairly large “Ouch.” I realize the record companies have shot themselves in the foot by setting up their market this way, but, as Christians, especially, we don’t have to help shoot.

      Also, more and more artists are going independent, which means the big record companies are not profiting from it and a lot more of the money is going to the actual artist. I think we will continue to see that happening as time progresses.

      Furthermore, even if the record companies get most of it, there is a reason that they are big names. It’s because they did a good job of managing their businesses. They might be big businesses, but that doesn’t make it any more right to rob them of their profits. Artists sometimes need a record company to get their work recognized by more people and record companies need artists so they can make money. Admittedly, the record companies are not treating the artists as well as they should but artists often realize that while they are signing over some of their liberty to the record companies it can help to get their name out if they sign with a big enough label. With the internet and its capabilities however, artists are realizing that, more and more, the record companies aren’t as important anymore as they once were.

    • rjshetler says:

      I do also agree with you though that the amount of crap out there is just depressing. Perhaps file sharing is a symptom rather than a problem. Maybe I just don’t like the thoughtlessness with which a lot of people just give each other their music, even music that they like, but aren’t willing to pay to build up their own libraries. It just seems really cheap considering the work that goes into making that stuff.

  2. Eugene says:

    I think we’re pretty close to the same spot, although it hits home harder for you as a musician. If art is valuable, we should support the artist making it.

    To that end, I love that more and more artists are going independent. It’s a way to stay honest – they’re able to spend time making music because people actually value their music enough to pay for it.

    I have no beef with a well-run business, whether it’s an independent musician or a record label. Provide something of value, and everybody should benefit.

    But the label-artist relationship, especially for a less known artist, is more like indentured servitude. The label controls which studios (owned by the label) the artist can use, and the price the artist pays to use it. Promotion, tour, music video, royalties, manager, backup musicians, etc – all these come out of the artist’s royalties.

    Sorry if I’m totally derailing the train of thought here. I just get a bit irked when file sharing gets made out to be the biggest obstacle to an artist’s livelihood. The middlemen are are a much bigger problem.

    I think the biggest positive change that can happen is for ordinary people to care about what they listen to, watch, read, etc – and directly support the people who produce it.

    • rjshetler says:

      I concur. I think maybe it’s just a tangible way in which we can support the artists we like and that kind of irritates me when people take advantage of something just because they can rather than thinking about what they are actually doing. I don’t necessarily think that file sharing is the root of of the problem, but I think it’s one thing especially Christians should avoid, not only the because of questionable ethics but it’s one thing I personally can do to help “stop the bleeding.” I agree completely with your last statement.

  3. Eugene says:

    And i agree with your point: rather than take advantage, take initiative. Noisetrade for the win. 🙂

  4. Benji Mast says:

    Hmm… I understand that this is probably going to land somewhere outside the boundaries RJ holds to. Let me share a couple stories.

    When I was at IGO, at a time when I had bought very little music, yet had a large library, I became convicted that I was benefiting from the hard work of others without contributing to their Rolls Royce fund, otherwise known as making a living. So I deleted most the music I hadn’t purchased.

    Later, RJ said U2 was really good. I was dubious. I had heard a little bit of their stuff on Youtube and didn’t really like it. So I pirated Joshua Tree, listened to it for a while. After several months, I realized I loved it. So I bought it, and their U218 singles album.

    When I started with photography, I pirated Photoshop. A couple years later, I bought it, shelling out several hundred dollars out to purchase CS4 because, it was a useful product. I still have yet make money in a tax year on my photography, but I was getting revenue.

    I don’t regret pirating U2 or Photoshop. Because I pirated, I spent $20-30 more than I would have otherwise. For Photoshop, I spent $200 on Adobe’s products, in part because that was what I had used and was used to as an amateur.

    I have pirated zero music in the last year, that I remember. I am not using it as an excuse not to support the artist. I am a photographer. I don’t like to see work stolen digitally. People with hearts to support artists are what we need.

    I don’t want to be antagonistic, but I would welcome further dialogue.

    • rjshetler says:

      I appreciate the insight, and I would say I feel differently about pirating with intention of sampling so that you could tell whether or not you would want to buy it would be different than pirating so that you wouldn’t have to buy it.

      I think the thing that irritates me most is when I see a person has like 4,000 songs on his iPod, and I know for a fact that very little of it is boughten, but simply picked up randomly as he sees different friends, and as he finds music he likes, he just pulls it from their libraries. I don’t like that at all and think it’s very wrong.

      If the ultimate end to your pirating is buying, I don’t see as big a problem with it. If you simply want to know what you are getting before you buy it, I’m not sure that I would do it, but I don’t see it the same. If the end of your pirating, is because you don’t feel like spending money, I have a very big problem with that.

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