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Illegal downloading and the Spanish live music scene

Por: | 22 de noviembre de 2011

Anna Calvi Red+gold 2 July 2011 credit Emma Nathan

It will probably come as no surprise that Spain has one of the worst performing music industries in the entire world. According to figures from international record label body the IFPI, the value of record sales in Spain fell 21% last year, the biggest drop in any of the world’s top 20 music markets.

It was a result that meant the Spanish music industry fell out of the global top ten for the first time ever, dropping to eleventh.

And yet outside of the shrunken Spanish music industry it is hard to find anyone in Spain who really cares: Spanish consumers seem OK with the idea of downloading everything from software to films from P2P sites and actually buying music has almost dropped off the radar.

It’s not hard to see why: the Spanish government has done little to try to crack down on piracy and most Spanish people I talk to think their actions have little impact on a music industry that is far away from their every-day lives.

But – without wanting to go into the moral whys and wherefores of copyright law - there is one important area where the impact of piracy is often forgotten in Spain: live music.

Away from the stadium-filling likes of Coldplay and U2, touring is an expensive business. It varies from band to band, of course, but I’d estimate that most bands don’t make money from touring until they hit venues of around 5,000 capacity.

So who’s going to pay for the others? Traditionally it was the record companies who would pay tour support, with the idea that they would make their money back from the added record sales a tour would bring.

But if an artist is unlikely to sell records in Spain – and it now only takes about 13,000 sales to top the charts here – why would a record company support their tour?

The answer is: they won’t. Record companies are hardly in the most vibrant of health and can ill afford to prop up a loss-making tour that won’t bring in any sales. And this will inevitably result in fewer new international bands coming to Spain.

This is not to say all is lost: Barcelona, where I live, has a vibrant live music scene. But much of it is either club-based – a DJ or electronic act travelling alone has far lower costs than a full live band – or sponsored by alcohol companies.

Anna Calvi’s excellent gig at the Sala KGB in September was part of the Heineken Music Selector initiative, for example, while Estrella Damm brought a number of Belgian acts to the Razzmatazz in August.

So what’s the problem?

Well, if you’re happy with local acts or only want to see up-and-coming live bands from around the world play once a year then there really isn’t one. Spain has excellent music festivals, with Sonar, Benicassim and Primavera Sound among Europe’s best, while local bands can often be found playing intriguingly dingy venues in most Spanish cities.

Equally, if you’re content to rely on beer companies to decide which new bands are best, then you have nothing to fear.

But I can’t help thinking that it’s a shame that in such a musical country as Spain – and in my experience you’re far more likely to find people who play instruments here than in the UK – punters will never be able to see some of the most interesting up-and-coming bands in a small, sweaty club when they are just on the cusp of success. A stadium or festival gig simply can’t compete.

What’s more, there can be something magical about the impact of a live band that are doing something really new and different, an experience that will often inspire members of the audience to form their own groups, setting off a wave of musical activity.

Think about the Sex Pistols’ legendary gig at Manchester's Lesser Free Trade Hall in June 1976, for example, which inspired Joy Division, The Fall and Morrissey to form their own bands. No gig, arguably no Smiths.

Then there is the simple matter of civic pride: Barcelona has a population of about 1.6 million – more than twice the size of Manchester. But Manchester’s live music scene would put Barcelona’s to shame. Even that of Norwich (population 125,000 – and where I grew up) would rival the Catalan capital for up-and-coming international bands.

And that can’t be right. Unless, of course, you want Spain to be known just for football, beaches and sun.

Hay 25 Comentarios

I think the reason why Spain has such a poor music industry has to do with price.
Eg, on Amazon a Dire Straits album retails at around £8-10.
In Corte ingles the same one is €21.00..
End of story.


You can download as much as you want but at least if you like a record very much please buy it. Every month I spent money in music, between 30 to 60 euros and when I see a band in a gig always visit their merchandising point to buy their last vinyl or a t-shirt, there's where the band get 100% profit so this way you're really supporting the band.
I think in spain there's no culture in music, I know lot of people that only listen to music made in the last 20 years or so and they think the decades before were rubish...there's good music eveywhere and from any decade.
There's no venues for live music in this country, we need bars or places where the young bands could get a chance to play live, there's where you learn a lot, playing live in front of an audience.
But the problem is the neigbours and the licences from the town halls.
we're still 30 years behind other EU countries like Holand or Germany just thanks to dictatorship.
Interesting underground bands in this country now: Lugüer from Madrid they have 2 records and very aclaimed in the specializes press as best record in 2010 but they still losing money touring.
Guadalupe Plata I think they're from granada but they could be from alabama.
Las nurses the best postpunk in europe if they were from NYC they would be the new big thing from the states.

The whole global music scene is changing. The money isn't in record sales, it is unfortunately in sponsorships from beer companies, other brands, etc.

Hello BB. thanks for your post. I enjoyed reading it and you made some points that really made me think.

I think you've hit the nail on the head when you talk about the lack of real, unbiased evidence as to whether illegal downloading does lead to reduced sales. I'm sure we could find half a dozen surveys that say it does; and the same amount that say it doesn't.

In these circumstances, though, I tend to think about how I've seen people behave and it seems logical that if you can download pretty much any music you want for free that you're not going to buy as much, as a result.

I'm sure some people do buy more. But I bet they're in the minority. After all, if you're only going to listen to music on an mp3 player through rubbish headphones, what does it matter if you have a pirate MP3 or the CD at home?

In any case, without evidence it is hard to be totally sure.

Price is another interesting point. To be honest, I hadn't really noticed about CD prices. But gigs in the UK are a lot cheaper, particularly at the bottom end.

And that's not a criticism of promoters here. But you can see a vicious circle emerging: if fewer people go to gigs, then you have to raise your prices, which means that fewer people go to gigs...

Troy - I have to bow to your knowledge of Spanish behaviour. I remember being surprised at the first gig I went to here that the headline act went on at 9! I thought they would be on at a suitably Spanish time of 1130 or something, particularly on a Friday night. Is there any reason they can't be?

Bu I have to say, based on limited experience, I've seen a large appetite for live music in Barcelona. I thought it was fantastic that you get around 2,000 people watching Wu Lfy at BAM. OK it's free but it still shows interest in what is hardly your average indie act..

In fact, to end on a very positive note, I thought BAM as a whole was brilliant: Wu Lyf, Zomby and King Midas Sound for free at a local festival? There are very few parts of the world you would get that.

Hi Ben - thanks for getting back so quickly. Sounds like we have fairly similar musical tastes. I saw Wild Beasts and Odd Future at PS, plus Deerhunter twice (and am expecting Atlas Sound to make an appearance next year). I have a number of points to make in reply, so apologies for the mammoth post.

Firstly regarding spending on music. Spaniards have far less money for this than many other Europeans, as they are simply poorer. As you probably know the majority of wage earners are inframileuristas, (i.e. make less than 1000 Euros per month), plus we have a ridiculously high level of unemployment, especially amongst the young, at 40-odd percent. This might account for Spaniards not buying much music, rather than a national addiction to piracy (yes, I’m addressing Alex’s post here). An addition, CDs are incredibly expensive in Spain in comparison with other countries. It seems likely that, as a Spanish judge recently stated ( ), many downloads do not represent lost sales - as the downloaders would not have bought the albums if the downloads hadn't been available. Doesn't make it right, of course.

In fact, where is the hard-and-fast evidence that the Spanish are a nation of downloaders, anyway? All the studies I’ve seen have been commissioned by the music industry, with a vested interest in exaggerating the stats in order to push for tougher legislation. Is there any independent data from a non-biased source (not Warner’s, Sony, Promusicae or one of the other trade bodies)? Talking of the trade bodies - how much have artists lost as a result of the SGAE scandal?

On a related point, have you seen this posting about a Swiss government study into downloads? it found that in Switzerland, at least, downloading did not affect overall spend on musical entertainment, but was complementary to it, and thus the Swiss government chose not to outlaw downloads for personal use.

Irrespective of whether the industry stats do stand up or not, another big factor for decreasing music sales must be the supremacy of - totally legal - Spotify in the country - which pays artists peanuts.

In addition, the costs of getting on a plane and coming to Spain where cities are pretty spread out and distant from one another are much higher than going to the UK or, say Germany (with cities just down the road from each other) from the US, for example, so you have another barrier to foreign bands touring that has nothing to do with downloading.

As regards sweaty venues, we have quite a few to choose from - Apolo 2, Razz 3, SideCar, Moog, L’Heliogabàl, and City Hall, for example, where I’ve seen a number of great bands.

Barcelona is certainly much more reliant on festivals than in the UK, for example, and let’s not forget the freebies such as BAM (Rita Indiana, WU LYF, Little Scream, Man Man this year) and Nits de Montjuïc. These take advantage of the balmy summer nights we enjoy here, and perhaps reflect a cultural difference between Spain and the UK music audiences.

On that note, I think its wrong to expect to see exactly the same sorts of bands in Catalunya as in the Midlands - or anywhere else for that matter. Hip hop for example is not as popular as in the UK, so there are less reasons for a rap act to tour here (although artists such as Ari Puello have enjoyed some success, and appeared at Nits de Montjuïc this summer).

On the positive side, after years of the dreary Cantautors, and cookie-cutter Ska and Jevi bands dominating much of the local talent, we have some great acts emerging in Barcelona. I’ve had a great time in the aforementioned sweaty dives listening to Odio Paris, Lion’s Constellation, Furguson and Mujeres this year, for example.

Finally, to address your point about gig-goers being entirely at the mercy of the legal drug pushers (the alcohol companies). As traditional mass-media advertising becomes more difficult due to channel fragmentation, sponsorship is an increasingly attractive option for any brand interested in a youthful demographic, and these will seize the opportunity to jump on the back of any bandwagon (excuse the pun) that happens along.

For that reason I think we can expect corporate sponsorship to continue, even if it means a shift to other market areas, such as apparel, and Levi’s have already sponsored smaller events here. Of course, with economic Armageddon just around the corner, all bets may be off in any case.

All the best - and I hope to bump into you at a BCN gig some day!

I'm going to leave the downloading question to the side here and agree with Kalekatu when s/he says that there is a lack of interest in live music in Spain. While there are of course exceptions, going out to a bar to see a band is simply not part of the national psyche. Sure, you can find live music in Barcelona, but BCN is not necessarily the rest of Spain. In general, and I am purposely generalizing here, people tend to prefer to go out and dance to familiar radio friendly songs, or music that sounds the same.

Then there is the actual way people socialize. People eat late here, so it's nearly impossible to get people out to see a band play here before 11pm, and on a school night, most people want to be in bed by then. Club owners try hard to get people used to bands starting at 9pm, but no one is out at that time. Meaning, live music only on weekends and thus the musicians have to day-gig in order to make a living.

Then there are the musicians themselves. Rarely do you see a band play more than one set. Once again, limiting their possible audience.

Massive downloading has indeed taken a lot out of the pockets of the big bands, but for Spain to really develop beyond curly haired boy singers, bands need places to play and more importantly, people to play to. Until certain habits change...the Bisbals will way out number the Chambaos.

Of course, what do you expect? Spaniards are shameless people when opportunity to still is out there. Don’t forget that Europe and their Spaniards hidalgos survived their miseries thanks to the gold stolen from the ‘new world’… rubbish to think they won’t do it with music…

BB - that's a very good question and difficult one to answer.

What I have put forward is essentially a theory based on conversations with people at record labels in the UK, as well as my observations in Barcelona. I'm not talking about the big acts though - the Shakiras and such - but the smaller ones who will lose money on touring.

I think the idea has a certain logic to it - if record labels aren't going to make money from sales in Spain why would they support loss-making tours?

That doesn't necessarily mean it's right, though, and I would love it to be wrong.

But there are so many different questions to consider.

For a start, I'm noy saying new international bands don't play Spain - of course they do.

But often when they do it is because a beer company has decided to sponsor some gigs or there is a festival.

Would the Anna Calvi gig I mentioned have happened without the support of Heineken? Quite possibly - I don't know.

There's nothing wrong with beer companies doing this - in fact I think it's great - but live music isn't part of their every-day business, so what happens if they lose interest and move onto films or sport or something?

As for bands I would have liked to see play a sweaty club here (not a festival): Atlas Sound; Odd Future; Loka; Wild Beasts.

Thanks for the music recommendations BTW and the comments.

Hi there

You have a theory here - that due to the high level of downloading in Spain record labels don't bother having bands tour here.

I think you need to somehow prove your point - in other words show which specific bands didn't go on tour here because it was not worth their while, commercially speaking - otherwise it's nothing more than speculation.

In the past two weeks I've seen Elbow, The Howling Bells, St Vincent, John Maus, Factory Floor, The Sonics, EMA, and a lot more. Admittedly, much of that was due to PC11, but I still had the opportunity to enjoy over 40 bands. Much bigger, more commercial names like Shakira play Palau St Jordi (at a high price).

So who is not coming to BCN that you'd like to see? I'd be interested to know.

All the best BB

Could be you are right, killo. Hope it is true.

To kalekatu: but the fact is that the little groups often put their discs in Internet for downloading, for free. And that's something that never do the big groups. If Internet is soooooo bad, if downloading if sooooo bad, if the 'illegal' downloads are going to kill little groups... Why they would do that? Why the little groups want that the people listen their music for free? I suppose that they preffer that the people listen their music and go to the concerts. The danger for the little groups is the last lie of thee music industry. But is the industry the one that is in danger.

Hi, Ben.
Just discovered: Anari
Give her a try. She sings in Basque, but I hope this not an inconvinience. She is in Spotify.
To killo: If I don't like Bisbal, I don't listen to Bisbal. If I like Anari, I would like her to be paid in some manner for having done a work that I appreciate. I think it is in some manner easy to say that they have to make concerts instead of earning millions. I don't think this groups earn millions. And I agree with you that thanks to downloads you can access so many groups... But they need to be paid for their work, because if they don't receive any income, they will have to give up working in music and start working in other things, leaving all the space to the Bisbals. Check what has happened to small cinemas specialised in films out of the mainstream. Disappearing. I think it is sad and that this could happen with music.

And more recommendations of spanish little known bands: Garaje Jack, Calaña.

In Spain private copy is totally legal. And is a matter of common sense. How do you started to listen music? Your music, not your brother's music. Copying a tape of one friend, I suppose. That's sharing! That's internet! In the 70's, in the 80's... that was normal. And anybody said that it was illegal. And now is illegal? Why? Why I could exchange tapes with one friend, but I can't change MP3's through Internet? Is irrational. And if the industry want's to stop it, the industry is dead. They can't fight agaisnt all of us. We are 99%, they can't win. And one explanation about spanish laws: in Spain private copy includes everything, with one condition: you can't copy something for making money with it. I explain: you can't download what you want, you can't copy one CD of one friend... but you can't go to the street and sell copied CD's. That's what the spanish laws sais. And this is not my opinion: the most important copyright asociation in Spain, SGAE, has gone to trial against individual users and they have lost. ALLWAYS. This is what our judges sais. This is our law. If you don't like it, is not our problem.

PS Killo - and anyone else in fact - please recommend me some more new Spanish groups. thank you

Hello Killo and thanks for your answer. You make a lot of good points and I'll check out La Pegatina.
The one thing I disagree on, however, is that copyright laws are "USA laws". I'm not going to talk about Spanish law as I admit I don't know enough about it.
But copyright law started in Europe (in the UK in fact in the 17th century).
A lot of European countries have a private copying exception, which means it is legal to make a copy of something you own - but not to copy other people's music, films etc.
As for Spanish labels - how about Irregular in Barcelona, home to Lasers etc?

A little mistake. I wrote 'And... the record countries pay for the little groups?' And I wanted to write 'And... the record COMPANIES pay for the little groups?'

Sure, Ben. But I'm a little sick of words like 'piracy', 'illegal', 'theft' or similar. We are almost considered as gansters for something that in Spain (and in several european countries) is totally LEGAL. We don't have to respect the USA laws, we have our laws. If you don't like it, is your problem. And... the record countries pay for the little groups? In which contry? In which Universe? Not in Spain. The record companies only promote the big bands. New bands like 'La Pegatina' only are possible with internet and the downloads. Thanks to the 'friend to friend recommendations'. And the numbers doesn't lie. The assintance to concerts has grown a lot in those years. We are not killing the music, it is industry that must adapt or die. There was music without industry, and there will be music without industry. Sorry for my horrible english. And thanks for your answer.

Hello Killo, My point wasn't to debate the morals of downloading content without paying for it. I just wanted to point out what one consequence of it could be. Up to you to decide what you make of that.

Your problem is that you don't know the spanish law. You should read a little before writing. In Spain downloading is LEGAL, at least if you don't sell what you download later. Spaanish commercial music is trash, that's his problem. I suppose that this kind of music is the same everywhere, but the people is not fool, and if they can't find & download other kinds of music with Internet, they won't buy Bisbal, Enrique Iglesias and other merchandising products. And one thing more: we have a 20% of unemployment... Why do I have to care for 'artists' that had made in one year more money than I earn in several lifetimes?

Hi Ben:
I think there is a great interest for live music... in some people. I am very interested about it, but I think most of the people don't mind at all. The result is that while I heard that in other countries in Europe it is quite common that in bars or pubs there are musicians playing, here it is not common at all.There will always be some clubs that have live music, but not at the same level than (please correct me) England, or Ireland. And I think this is the real way for music to appear and develop. But it could happen I have an ideallisation about this question... or could be I am too pesimistic about this question in Spain. Let's hope it changes to a better scenario.
Anyway I agree with the idea that massive downloads can only lead to make situation worse in the long term...

Hi Kalekatu,
Thanks for your comment. The article is based on the impression that I've got from talking to record companies since I've been in Barcelona and from what I've seen around me. But it's my opinion really and I'd be interested to hear more of what you think. One thing I don't agree with, though, is there is a lack of interest in live music in Spain. What do other people think?

I think it is a good article, but I think there is a question you might be wrong. The dry live music scene nowadays is not worse than before the pirate downloading fever. It was that bad before, too, or even worse. At least that is my feeling. So I don't agree that it is a comsequence of the illegal downloads. It is a comsequence of the lack of interest in live music in Spain, apart from the giant-super-macro-concerts and festivals I am less and less interested about. Welcome to the desert, my friend. And please keep on writing.

Sobering thought...your point is made all the more vehemently by the fact that the mighty Buzzcocks also owe their existence to that night in Manchester. :)

Great article!

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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check:

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