June 2004

Megan Taylor
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 free."

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 digital works.

That promptly pulled the site’s plug, and exposed the soft-spoken Taylor to the ugly side of fandom.

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 meant.

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.

Pittsburgh Prodigy

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 Weather Report.

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 built.

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 "captivating."

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 artist.

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 other sites.

"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 -– mute."


This Philadelphia Inquirer article is displayed here with permission of the author (16 August 2004).