My Life As A Music Pirate (Part 1)

We love creating content for this blog, but the true mission of Haulix has always been to provide the most secure music hosting and distribution services available online. It’s no secret that piracy has crippled the music industry in many ways over the last decade, and we strive every day to do whatever we can to prevent future music leaks. You see, we may not be musicians ourselves, but recognize that the livelihood of everyone in the music business is dependent on the continued success and support of the artists we sign, promote, and otherwise get behind. If we do not do our part to help them support themselves however we are able then how can we expect anyone to help us when piracy eventually erodes entire segments of the industry?

Recently, it dawned on us that we did not have a strong grasp on what actually makes someone want to leak music. The assumption has been made in the past that these so-called ‘music pirates’ think the praise from anonymous commenters on message boards and forums is enough of a reward to convince them to hurt artists and those who fund them, but frankly we thought that felt a bit too simple to be entirely true. So we decided to do something we had never done before: Seek out a music pirate and convince them to share their story.

Today we are sharing the first in a four-part series on the life of a real-life music pirate. Each entry will tell a chapter of one pirate’s life in music, beginning with their introduction to CD duplication and building to a role in what was once one of the internet’s fastest-growing music leak communities. It’s the story of one individual who managed to engrain themselves in the music industry professionally while simultaneously leaking highly-anticipated records to the world, and it’s told entirely in their own words.

**As part of our agreement with the author of this series, a number of names and websites have been altered to protect identities and certain brand reputations. We have no intention to reveal the author’s name or location.**


Part 1: The Early Years

I suppose my foray into the world of piracy started like most, by digging through my parents’ entertainment cabinet, plundering their CDs and cassettes. I’d store these in my room and listen to them in secret. I doubt I would have gotten into much trouble if caught, but the idea of listening to something that wasn’t delivered to me by radio stations my parents chose excited me to the ends of my tiny little world.

My first cassette was by a boy band. It was the 1998 re-issue of Backstreet Boys. I was probably 10 years old then. I listened to that tape day in and out until I received my second tape, by yet another boy band, ‘N Sync. No Strings Attached.

It was from these humble beginnings that I fell in love with music. From that point I was determined to listen to more than what my mother’s preset FM stations could provide. That’s when the raiding began. I’d sneak listens to CDs by Journey, RUSH, Chicago, and Simon & Garfunkle whenever I could. I strayed as far as possible from my family’s country-western obsession as possible in that cabinet. I found an old walkman and used it when listening on my room’s stereo wasn’t an option. These were my first steps.

Eventually I was found out and encouraged as long as I was careful not to scratch anything. That made listening to these albums unadventurous and obsolete. I needed something else. Something forbidden. That’s when hip-hop came into play.

My childhood best friend had a much different set of parents than I. Whereas mine sheltered me from anything thuggish or promiscuous, his parents allowed him to indulge in violent video games and sexually-charged music. Playing with him meant hours of Duke Nukem and SWAT 3 while Eminem and Nelly played in the background. I learned a lot in that house.

It was during that time that I got my first portable CD player/AM-FM tuner combo. This gave me much greater access to music my parent’s weren’t down with. I’d listen to Casey Kasem’s countdown every week and the local college stations in the days between. While my parents thought I was listening to “Weird Al” Yankovic in my backyard tree-house, I was actually becoming a young rap aficionado.

Outkast, Jay-Z, Usher, Chingy, and the Ying Yang Twins became my soundtrack. Biking around town with my padded headphones on and my CD player in my backpack, I felt like I not only owned my neighborhood, but myself as well. While I certainly wasn’t free to listen to what I wanted by my parent’s rules, I felt free in the music I chose. Hip-hop guided me out of parental restriction and into musical expression.

My rap days faded as the Internet became more prevalent in school and society. Internet blockers weren’t as strict back then, which allowed me to indulge in music videos and websites like SingingFish (RIP). This is about the time pop-punk music started taking hold of my life. Bands like Green Day and Fall Out Boy became my favorite thing. I’d download System Of A Down songs at school, copy them to a disc, and bring them home to burn to another disc. This was by no means an ideal process, but I had no real Internet connection in my house until I was in college. AOL’s dialup service notwithstanding.

No, I wasn’t an Internet pirate until my 8th grade year. Until that point I found other means to obtain music without pay. I’d borrow CD’s from friends and copy them using Windows Media Player at home, returning them the next day. They were none the wiser. This idea carried over to the local library when I realized that it was more than a haven for bookies.

After school each day, I raced to the library to grab one of 4 computers before the other kids arrived. During my hour of registered computer time, I would log onto Runescape and collect coins and medieval weaponry. In a second window (this was pre-tabs), Yahoo! Music would be loaded and ready to go, introducing me to new bands every day. When I heard a song I liked, I’d switch from my game to the player and capture the artist’s name. This would be added to a written list that I would use in my last 10 minutes of each web-session. If my library didn’t have the CD by the artist I wanted to hear more of, I’d order it in. For the next several years, I’d have a new stack of jewel cases waiting for me every week for pick-up. I’d take them home, rip them to Musicmatch Jukebox (Later Yahoo! Music Jukebox and Rhapsody), and then return them after school the next day.

This is when my obsession with collecting music began. Watching the number of albums and hours of audio grow became a drug to me. It became less about listening to the music as it did cataloguing it on my family’s computer. My library grew substantially through the years via my library ordering method. I became the guy my classmates would come to for music. They’d hand me flash-drives and CDs and ask for music. Nothing specifically, just things I thought that they would like. Music became more than a hobby for me in my middle school years. It became an identity.

My Life As A Music Pirate will continue next Thursday, March 27. Follow Haulix on Twitter and Facebook for updates.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.