One of the most contentious issues raising blood pressures today is the illegal downloading of copyrighted music. The debate involves record labels, musicians/songwriters, and consumers, and the symbiotic relationships that ensnare them all.

In a recent column, I stated, "Data Breaker frowns upon free downloads," which Seattle's DJ Saigon found unfair. She replied: "Downloading music is how I get to hear tracks I would otherwise not be able to unless I paid the exorbitant amount for the CD. There is so much crap out there right now; how else am I supposed to decipher between one artist from another? You can't freely listen to every CD at music stores. Downloading is how I jumpstart my collection--along with many of my friends, most of whom are DJs and also spend their money on vinyl."

I feel ya, Saigon. So I conducted a survey among label bosses, producers, and DJs, all voracious music consumers/listeners. I hope their answers enlighten.

As a producer, how do you feel about people downloading your tracks? Do you see it as an excellent way for people to find out about your creations (in effect, an unsurpassable marketing tool) or outright theft? Something in between?

Eric Mast (Ratatat, E*vax, owner of Portland's Audio Dregs): "It is an effective way for people to find new music, especially with the current state of commercial and college radio. I offer free MP3 tracks on the site, so obviously I don't have a problem sharing, though I had to take most down because the traffic was too much last month due to Ratatat's recent surge in popularity."

James van Leuven (Plan B): "I'm okay with people downloading or burning my work for free. It's painfully obvious that the ease of burning CD-Rs has created an epidemic that is seriously undermining the record industry. The speed of burning music from a computer makes sharing music not comparable to the mix-tape sharing of the '80s. When was still in business and free, I was downloading tons of songs. Because of it, I was exposed to 300 times more music, which gave me the opportunity to decide if it deserves my money. But the truth is, I bought more records during those six months that Macster was in effect than ever before."

If you run your own label, please outline whether you think free downloads are beneficial or detrimental to your business.

Eric Mast: "Probably helpful, but it's hard to tell for sure. It seems to have helped us. It spreads the word and the type of people who actually buy music will buy hardcopies of their favorites."

Philosophy Major (WordSound Records): "A recent Harvard study showed a correspondence of 'statistically zero' between file swapping and CD sales ( The only thing holding musicians back from cutting labels out of the loop entirely is the conservative practices of American radio stations, which still refuse to play MP3s."

Prince Charming (Lovecraft Technologies): "An amazing power of production and distribution has been handed directly to artists. They have an opportunity to create new axis points and value systems independent of the current power players." DAVE SEGAL