Why We Took the Piracy Debate to a Times Square Billboard: Guest Column by Ghost Beach

Ghost Beach in front of its billboard in New York's Times Square

The New York-based “tropical grit pop” duo Ghost Beach was recently selected as the latest band to have its music featured in an online commercial for American Eagle Outfitters -- and that deal brought the group the opportunity to also be featured on the retailer’s giant digital billboard in Times Square. But rather than use the space to post of photo of themselves or promote their current single “Miracle,” the duo -- Josh Ocean and Eric Mendelsohn -- decided to shine a light on the debate surrounding music piracy, promoting an online campaign called Artists Vs. Artists on Twitter and at artistsvsartists.com. In this guest post, they explain why. Billboard.biz welcomes responsible commentary -- contact jem.aswad@billboard.com with ideas.
 

Recently our band Ghost Beach was offered use of a 15,000-square-foot LED billboard in the middle of Times Square. The space was offered to us as an added value as part of a license for our song “Miracle” to be used in an online video for American Eagle. Initially, we were puzzled on what to do with the space. We wanted to avoid a direct advertisement of ourselves, so we brainstormed on using the space to create some type of discussion.
 
We chose to address the issue of "piracy" because it continues to be one of the most poignant topics in the growth of the music industry in the Internet age. Our hope with artistsvsartists.com (AVA) was to create a discussion amongst our peers about what "piracy" means in 2013 and how we can move forward with new technologies and sharing platforms to combat it. We took this idea to the advertising agency TBWA\Chiat\Day, who helped us develop the campaign for free.
 
On AVA we asked people -- ideally artists -- to pick a side using the hashtags #artistsforpiracy or #artistsagianstpiracy. The results on the website were overwhelmingly in favor of #artistsforpiracy, although many of the individuals weighing in ended up being fans and consumers, not strictly artists. We’ve gotten feedback on the website from a varied group of specific artists including solo musicians, producers, DJ’s and rock bands, ranging from upstart developing acts to well established career artists.
 
One of the tougher obstacles in developing this campaign was figuring out how to present all sides of the debate, as it’s not a simple black-and-white issue. We realized we couldn’t with just the billboard and the website, but by presenting the subject in stark contrast as simply ‘for’ or ‘against,’ we hoped to ignite a debate outside of the AVA website. We think we’ve succeeded in doing so. We found there to be heated conversation on both sides of the issue on Facebook, Twitter and various blogs and websites. We’ve received an overwhelming amount of criticism and an overwhelming amount of support surrounding the campaign and the issue, which to us means that we’re doing something right. This is still, very much, a relevant topic.
 
It’s important to note that there are, literally, two sides to the billboard. Many people chose to zero-in on one perspective and jump to certain conclusions. Many of those people chose to only see the ‘for’ side of the billboard coupled with the fact that we’re hosting this debate, and they were quick to assume we’re pro-piracy. While we do think that there have been tremendous strides in the development of music distribution and technology as a result of illegal online file sharing over the past decade, our official stance is with #artistsagainstpiracy.
 
Furthermore, we know what the literal definition of piracy is and we know that us giving away our music for free does not equate to piracy -- under any terms. We believe in using new music sharing platforms to combat illegal downloading by offering the modern music consumer convenient choices when it comes to discovering and downloading new music. We believe the only way to truly move forward on this issue is to continue talking about it and support strategies that work with the distribution network the Internet provides, while still protecting the intellectual property of artists. The next step in this discussion is calculating fair royalty rates for artists and labels through the many streaming services that have been developed.
 
As a band, we have built our entire foundation by sharing our music for free on the Internet. Since our launch in October 2011 we have given away 11 free, original singles, as well as a few remixes. We haven’t pressed a single piece of physical music product. We started our own label Crazy Heart Records to release the music, with one simple objective; to offer music listeners a choice of how to access and listen to our music.
 
While all of our future content may not be available for free, we will continue to have much of our catalogue available for free online throughout our career as Ghost Beach. Every song we’ve released thus far has been available to stream, purchase or download for free (directly from us). We’ve found that this approach has helped us develop a very solid fan base and community around our band on the Internet and in the real world at our concerts. We look forward to continuing to develop that community, and would like to thank everyone who has contributed thus far via commenting on the AVA campaign, a paid download, a free download, streaming a song, licensing a song or coming out to a show.
 
-- Josh Ocean and Eric Mendelsohn, Ghost Beach