Recently, I was reading a Washington Post article by theater critic Peter Marks about the state of the Broadway cast-album business. As regular readers may know, I have far more cast recordings than is probably wise, so I have a vested interest in this topic. Marks does a great job of setting the historical context and laying out the economic difficulties that labels face when they record and issue cast albums. It used to be that Broadway music and popular music were the same, but it's been a long time -- decades, in fact -- since that was true.
Lately, most of the major releases we've seen have come from the likes of Kurt Deutsch at Ghostlight Records (whose recent releases include Next to Normal, In the Heights, and Hair) and Tommy Krasker at PS Classics (Xanadu, The Story of My Life, and the upcoming release of Sondheim's Road Show). Every once in a while, we get West Side Story from Sony Masterworks Broadway, or Shrek from Decca Broadway, but for the most part Broadway cast recordings of late have come from the small boutique shops above.
Which brings me to my main point: file sharing is bad. It's bad for these small, struggling companies, and it's ultimately bad for the people who love musical theater. Because, here's the bottom line: if we're not willing to buy cast albums, then we're not going to be able to buy cast albums. I hear the excuses all the time: CDs are too expensive, and how can I possibly get all the music I want if I can't pay for it. Well, you know what? Maybe that means you don't get to listen to all the music you want. We all have to live within a budget, and make purchasing choices.
I'll admit, this diatribe is purely selfish on my part. I want to continue to be able to buy cast albums and if everyone keeps sharing files, then the few remaining companies that actually do produce cast albums will either stop doing so or simply go out of business. I know that file sharing is something that's hard to stop, and that it's very tempting to join certain password-protected blogs, or online trading communities, which allow you to download music free of charge. I've been on these sites myself, and I've downloaded stuff, but only things that weren't commercially available, like demos and stuff that's been long out of print.
Human nature is what it is, and to a certain extent the music companies are fighting a losing battle: because it's so easy to download and share music, it's going to continue, and ultimately there's not a lot that the recording business can do about it. But I don't really care about pop stars and rappers. For all I care, you can share their music to your heart's content. But when it comes to musical theater, I would respectfully ask my readers (and my students) to do the right and honest thing and abstain from file sharing. In the long run, you'll thank yourself.