It may come as a surprise to no one that Ian MacKaye supports the free distribution of music. MacKaye has been a prominent figure in the punk movement since the ’80s as a founding member of punk-rock pioneer group Minor Threat and the fiercely independent Fugazi. He also founded an independent label, Dischord Records, in 1980, which he still runs to this day.
MacKaye has spoken out on the subject of filesharing countless times. In 2004:
I don’t mind it, doesn’t bother me. I like people to support the label, but as a musician, when I write a song I want it to be heard. So if you ask me would I rather have 200 people listening to that song or $200, I would take the 200 people. I don’t think it’s nearly as dire as the major labels do. The uproar over file-sharing, it really wasn’t damaging the major labels as much as they’re saying. They’re just predicting that if they don’t say something now it’s gonna get them later on. I say good riddance. If Dischord has to go as part of it, if it means destroying major labels, then I’m fine with that.
The creation of the record created a consumable. At that point, for the first time, really in the history of music, there was something to sell. I understand you could sell sheet music, you could sell piano rolls, but the idea of owning music as a consumable item had not really happened before. The record labels have had over a hundred years of a monopoly on selling music and they’ve twisted and perverted music to their ends because they want to make money. They’ve had a good run, and if they lose out, tough shit.
In 2008, MacKaye recalled a visit to Chile, a country in which his records weren’t legally sold. He played a show for a crowd of 600 and as he played, his fans sung along. He realized that illegal downloading was to credit. “It gave me shivers… Finally the internet did something good. How else would they have ever heard our music? Major Labels would love for music not to go out for free. Music is free, it always has been.”
Fast forward to October 2010 and he hasn’t budged, but speaks a bit more on making money as a touring artist:
[Touring is] a lot of work. It’s not that I think bands should be giving all of their money away. I do think, however, that if there is opportunity, if there’s a benefit that you feel is important, if you wanna support something then, sure… play for free. It doesn’t cost you anything to strum a guitar. I think that’s totally reasonable. When I tour and people say, “Oh, you’re just making money,” I say, “That’s right! Yes!” There’s nothing wrong with that. Artists actually need to be supported. There’s no doubt in my mind that artists need to be supported.