Credit: Illustration by Peter Hoey

My age (I’m 34) and my demo (I paid off my student loans years ago) should indicate that the Internet’s freeloading legions scurry outside my radar. I’m supposed to be a good boy and worship the record release date. I’m supposed to love the record store. I’m supposed to believe that purchasing the Papercuts record is a moral good that will provide the band with some cushy health care in a private room at the Don Henley Memorial Wing at Cedars-Sinai.

For years I toiled as an honest rock nerd with a conscience. But I no longer think it’s possible to fully nerd out without stealing. This year, I became a thief, joining the ranks of freeloaders. It’s the only way I could discover music. Without downloading, how could I have found Turkish funk, out-of-print Krautrock, or rare Studio One jams? So what if I’m now the guy the industry makes a point of slamming late in the Grammy telecast? I don’t watch the Grammys anyway.

I am still the industry’s best-case scenario. I haven’t gone completely to the dark side. I still go to shows. I still think about purchasing real album versions of my favorite freebies. Ten years ago, the bands on the list below might’ve gotten hundreds of dollars out of me. This year, they got about 75 bucks. More than enough for a couple trips to CVS.

Mirrored, Battles (Warp)

I ripped this album from a message board so far in advance of the album’s release date that it might’ve been before the album had a release date. Months later, after digesting the band’s superintricate, pixilated thumpers, I spent more than $20 on the LP for my brother. I caught the band twice, traveling to Baltimore, taking pictures, and worming my way up close to raise my fists and offer enthusiastic hand claps. Just like a real fan who pays real money to support them.

Presents the Paisley Reich, Times New Viking (Siltbreeze)

First I discovered this band’s cute backstory—they got signed to Siltbreeze, a label I thought didn’t exist anymore, after it received an anonymous cassette of their first album. I listened to a few MP3s and got hooked, then obsessively scavenged for a downloadable version of the album. I found a freebie on a message board and obsessively played its scruffy, damaged confessionals enough to make me think about paying for the next one. I would have bought this album on vinyl except it’s only a single-sided disc—no thanks. The band’s fuzzy dramatics and nods to early New Zealand pop still give me goosebumps. Full disclosure: I stole the band’s first album, too.

Kala, M.I.A. (XL/Interscope)

I went to Melody Records, held the rebel rapper’s CD in my hand, and walked around the store with it as if I’d purchase it. The album was on sale for the low, low Best Buy-like price of $9.99. I felt like an asshole when I put it back on the shelf, but I knew I could get a burn of this from a friend. So I did.

Spiderman of the Rings, Dan Deacon (Carpark)

I grabbed this off a blog a few weeks before I get the promo in the mail. I was already deep into the Baltimore weirdo’s cartoon-inspired Lite-Brite dance-core, and I was planning to make all 12 minutes and 12 seconds of the club fantasia “Wham City” my summer anthem. I believed the song to be inspirational. I think I sent an e-mail thanking Deacon’s label for sending the promo. Or at least faked excitement when I received it.

Weirdo Rippers, No Age (Fat Cat)

I found this album after Googling the words “No Age” and “Sendspace.” It’s too easy. I eventually purchased one of the band’s EPs and paid money to see them play at the Hosiery, so the band does get some cash from me for their brilliant pan-and-scan, chopped-up fuzzy nuggets. At the end of the show, I eyed the merch table. Then I walked away.

I Believe in You. Your Magic Is Real., YACHT (Marriage)

This is the last record I downloaded through Oink, so it’ll always have sentimental value for me. I’ll always remember where I was: sitting in front of my laptop at home around 2 a.m. with nothing to do. YACHT’s self-affirming, whimsical pop is buffeted by fake hand claps, cheesy keyboards, and mumblecore aesthetics. I must confess that using Oink was my late-night guilty pleasure. I’d like to think that I was a diligent Oink citizen. I uploaded my share. I’d also like to think that I adopted a sort of moral code by only giving away out-of-print stuff. But sometimes I strayed from my code. So apologies to Sleater-Kinney and Andrew Hill. Oh, and to you too, YACHT.

Behold Secret Kingdom, Raccoo-oo-oon (Release the Bats)

This is a sort of rare-on-purpose album.

Not only did the band’s psych drones come from a hazy, obscure place, I believed the actual physical product would be hard to locate in the normal ways. So I figured I have no choice but to steal it. I download it off a blog. It is a secret blog; it is sometimes written in another language, possibly Portuguese or French. I don’t care. I never read it. I just stare at the album covers and click on the “try it” link. Months later I bought the record on vinyl. It still leans against my listen-to stack—first in the row!—still in its plastic wrapping.

Belly, Food for Animals (Hoss)

The first time I read about this record’s existence, it was as a freebie. I believe the band actually posted its creative labors on a message board, as if to say, “Hey, here’s our new album, check it out.” At the time, I did not. I dithered over it until a friend highly recommended the record as mind-blowing. He then gave me a download link. It’s true: Belly’s dense, spaced-out, and shivering raps are mind-blowing.

Strawberry Jam, Animal Collective (Domino)

The idea of getting this for free became a weeks-long obsession. Every night, I trolled my usual spots. I refused to download the trio of leaked MP3s—I wanted the whole thing at once. It finally leaked while I was traveling in South Africa and Mozambique. I was lame enough to actually search for the thing while there, on a friend’s incredibly old desktop in between exhausting treks. I got it Sendspaced to me soon after I came home. It took me weeks to actually listen to and digest the album’s crazy rhythms and yelping toward utopia.

Widow City, Fiery Furnaces (Thrill Jockey)

A close relative Sendspaced me this one, too. I never actually got through the whole album, because I was too busy downloading other stuff. I have two albums and two EPs on my desktop awaiting my attention. I used to make time for the Fiery Furnaces. Now I just listen to the opener and cheer the band’s reunion with guitars. I realize I miss Eleanor Friedberger’s voice and the way it can warp and bend a song’s run-on, laundry-list lyrics into a sort-of melody. I promise myself: I will buy this album.