Megan Taylor was
burned by downloaders.
How "Sharing" Music Hurts Real Musicians
Next time you steal a song off the Internet,
Megan Taylor would like you to picture her,
sitting at her computer in her Bala Cynwyd
bedroom, searching for her name, and seeing the
end of her career.
Her dance song "Free Your Mind" had climbed
Billboard’s club charts. D.J.’s were playing her
from Berlin to Brooklyn. In Europe alone, she’d
sold 15,000 vinyl copies of the single.
But when it came to CD sales, her label
informed her she’d only moved 110 discs.
A D.J. friend told her where to look for her
money –- on the Internet. She visited a
peer-to-peer network called Soulseek that the D.J.
had described as a clearinghouse for free dance
and electronic music, and there she searched for
her professional name, Sapphirecut. More than 100
people were busy trading her song.
For one hour she stared, her music flying from
computer to computer, and she grew angrier by the
moment, thinking of the years it had taken to get
to this sound, of the double shifts she had worked
at her day job so she and her partner could create
hypnotic electronic epics.
"I just sat there and watched," she says. "Then
I realized what the problem was: Labels were going
to fold because everyone was taking the music for
She had long dreamed of sharing her music. Now
she was experiencing the artist’s modern
nightmare. This was in March. She researched
copyright law and sent a letter to the operators
of the website, asking them to remove her music.
They ignored her. Then she sent a letter to the
website’s server, citing U.S. law protecting
That promptly pulled the site’s plug, and
exposed the soft-spoken Taylor to the ugly side of
They spammed her, flamed her, threatened her,
defamed her, sent her viruses, and called for
boycotts of her music.
A typical missive went: "And, lastly,
‘Sapphirecut’ is apparently the moniker for a girl
named Megan Taylor, so if you’d like to address
her by her actual name in your e-mails of hate, it
might not be a bad idea. In fact, making your
subject line ‘I hate Megan Taylor’ is probably not
a bad idea at all."
What her fans might not have realized is that
Sapphirecut also is a mother of three and a
physician, an allergist who has worked at making
music for three decades, recently devoting as much
time in her home studio as she does in her
Huntingdon Valley practice.
She is tan and lean and barefoot, sitting
cross-legged in her basement, energetically
talking about the spiritual release of sharing her
music and the joy of connecting with fans –- the
time she gave her name at the door of a New York
club and a young woman screamed "Oh, my God" and
grew tearful talking about what her music
Her age, Taylor says, is irrelevant, her body
just "a house for the person you are inside, your
soul." The house, she says, "needs a few things.
We won’t say how old it is."
Still, it is not hard work for this mother of
children ages 9 to 16 to stay out on the dance
floor until 6 a.m. – if she has a sitter.
She grew up outside Pittsburgh, one of five
musical children, an A-student who started singing
at age 2, who played piano in high school bands,
who spent summers covering Little Feat and
Jefferson Airplane songs at beach-resort gigs.
Her tastes have always been a little edgier
than her peers’. At Washington University’s
medical school, she got together with a bunch of
fellow music lovers only to find that their idea
of a good time was limited to singing songs from
Gilbert and Sullivan’s, The Pirates of
Penzance. She was more into Pink Floyd and
She moved to Philadelphia to train in internal
medicine. She found that cheap Casio keyboard and
computer game that launched her second profession
at a Zany Brainy toy store.
For several years, she and Dave Shaffer, a
university finance professor, have been making and
mixing tracks in the professional studio she
When it came time to be heard, they decided to
record the songs onto $50 dub plates,
single-pressed masters, to distinguish themselves
from those on CD. They would hand them personally
to influential D.J.’s.
A half-year after she worked the 2001 Winter
Music Conference in Miami, Taylor heard back from
New York D.J./producer Danny Tenaglia, who wanted
to put "Free Your Mind" onto a dance compilation.
He also hooked her up with the head of Twisted
America, a label run by Rob Di Stefano, who
promptly signed her to an album deal.
Last month, she lost that deal. Both she and Di
Stefano blame downloading.
"I was amazed by Megan," Di Stefano says,
"first because there are not so many female
producers of dance music."
He calls her first hit, "Free Your Mind," "a
very epic track" and says he was impressed by her
musical savvy. Her dance tracks, he says, are
It pains her to talk to her fans and see how
they don’t understand that they are not just
beating the big labels after years of paying too
much for music –- they are killing the small
Her hope is "to reach the people like those who
love my music and come up to me telling me how
they really love it, and just downloaded it. It’s
with total naivete. I’ve even had people tell me
if music was available for a dollar a track on an
Internet site at better quality, they would still
download it for free because it’s free on the
"The children who are aspiring to be musicians
need to know how much they are hurting their
favorite artists and rendering the new artists -–
which they, themselves, could be someday -–
BY DANIEL RUBIN
This Philadelphia Inquirer article is displayed here with
permission of the author (16 August 2004).