Let’s face it: loving music is an expensive passion. At $12 and up for CDs, catching up on a newfound artist’s discography can leave scorch marks in your wallet. Also, having several favorite bands can be detrimental to the already-measly paycheck you get every two weeks for scrubbing soda stains off restaurant tables.
It is for this reason that many people turn to file-sharing programs like Limewire and Morpheus. File-sharing programs, more commonly known as peer-to-peer programs, have been fraught with lawsuits and played the target of music industry outrage as they provide a medium for people to find music at no cost at all. But what about a P2P program used to promote undiscovered talent? One such program by the name of Soulseek aims to do just that.
At its nuts and bolts, Soulseek is nothing more than another P2P program with a few added tools: chat rooms allow users to discuss similar musical tastes, share information and chat about anything else using real-time instant messaging. A people-matching system allows the user to make friends and expand his musical philosophy.
So why is there the emphasis on community? “The intention of Soulseek is to help unsigned and independent artists find a place in the ever-growing music industry, in a place where discussion and the creation of music can take place,” states the main page at SoulSeek.org. The forums, instant messaging and friend finders are designed to help struggling artists break into the music industry by one of the best forms of advertising invented: word of mouth. While it can be easy to accuse Soulseek of using this generous statement as nothing more than a translucent cover to allow illicit file sharing, it has indeed helped discover hidden musical talent. Artists such as Saskia, Ears Akimbo, Nedavine and Lackluster have found a wide fanbase through Soulseek and currently have records up for sale at its label’s Web site, SLSKrecords.com. However, these are the only artists on SLSK Record’s label, and the program has been up for use for over four years now, so the general effectiveness of Soulseek remains questionable. It is possible that there are many artists who found success through Soulseek but signed on to a different label, but there is no real way of finding this out.
Soulseek aims to help struggling artists with that crucial push that will get them signed onto a label. But what are the legal implications of the program? Again, the program’s purpose is to share the music of unsigned artists with other people and spread it around, but that means the same can be done with copyrighted music.
A couple years ago, the music industry went on the warpath and threw lawyers and lawsuits at anybody they could catch using P2P programs like Kazaa. Revenue excesses of music industry giants aside, Soulseek condemns the sharing of copyrighted music in its mission statement. “Soulseek does not endorse nor condone the sharing of copyrighted materials. You should only share and download files which you are legally allowed to or have otherwise received permission to share,” states its front page. “Use of this network for what may be deemed illegal in nature may see users prosecuted by law, and the owners and/or operators of the Soulseek network do not offer protection from said incidents.”
Whether or not users actually respect this rule can only be guessed at, but one would be so inclined to assume that yes, there are many who abuse Soulseek’s P2P system for copyrighted music sharing. If and when this will bring money-hungry music producers sniffing around Soulseek’s front door remains to be seen.
Soulseek appears to be an effective tool for unsigned artists. P2P networking systems have proven to be a great way of getting music around (much to the music industry’s dismay). An artist with no record label working to get his music out to the public may find it serves as a great substitute for a label. Best of all, Soulseek is as an alternative to American Idol. If an artist is nothing but horrid, then we won’t have to spend a painful 15 seconds listening to a voice that can wilt flowers and then watch them storm out in disillusioned tears after a vicious review.