I have some rules as to which albums I support downloading.
1) Albums from first time artists. If I'm going to pay money for an album, considering how easy it is to get an album for free, I want to know it's going to be good. That's why an artist has to prove his merit. Some guys can come out with awesome mixtapes and not translate to album artists. However, I will go back and buy a rookie album after the fact if the artist turns out to be an artist I want to support (example: Food & Liquor, College Dropout). I should note that I will be breaking this rule next week when I buy Asleep in the Bread Isle.
2) Artists that are down with giving away their album for free. This one is pretty self explanatory. If Radiohead is giving away In Rainbows for nothing, I'm not going to pay money. It's basic economics, really. The thinking with these albums is that the band will make it's fans love them and pay to see them live or support them later. This is the Lil Wayne Ideology.
3) History lessons. If you want to go back 10 years to learn about hip-hop's roots, go ahead. And don't bother paying. We all know the odds of you going to a record store and asking for a Eric B & Rakim album is unrealistic. Example, I went to a Best Buy a couple months back to buy De La Soul's 3 Feet High & Rising. I wanted to support what is one of the most fun albums, regardless of genre, of the last 20 years. When I couldn't find the album, I asked the Best Buy employee for help. When I told him which album I wanted, he looked at me like I was wearing girl jeans. He pretty much said nobody buys old school hip hop albums. I mean, I could have bought the album on iTunes, but what's the point? I like buying an album and getting a hard copy with an album cover and everything.
You can make your own rules, but make sure you support music to a certain extent, be it buying every album or buying no albums and going to see artists live.
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