Thank You Napster
It was 15 years ago, almost to the date, that a start-up digital music service completely ruined my life. Two teenage punks named Shawn/Sean, who, over the years I’ve come to admire and respect, created a piece of free software that any other teenager could download. Many did. How many? Well in less than a year, the software they called Napster would have 20 million users. Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker both single-handedly changed the way humans discover, share, and listen to music. Those two super punks, along with way more than 20 million of us, would collectively eliminate the entire music industry, forever.
The Collective Power of Napster
What Fanning and Parker did was revolutionary. I call them ‘punks’ because I admire their rebellious nature. These dudes may be ‘punks’ but at the time they were amateur, but phenomenal, developers. If you need an overview of the Napster story, be sure to watch Downlaoded – The Official Napster Documentary. Here’s the trailer:
Essentially, Shawn and Sean created Napster from an idea. The idea was simply to create a web based network where users from all over the world could trade music in mp3 format as well as comedy clips – remember the Jerky Boys were all over Napster? The best part of this idea was that the platform would be free and have absolutely no commitment form the user.
All you needed was a computer with a dial-up connection.
In June of 2000, Napster had well over 60 million users. People from all over the world were uploading, downloading, and essentially sharing music, for free, from pretty much every single popular, mainstream, and even niche singer, songwriter, group, or band on the planet.
In June of 2000, I was working at Virgin Music Canada as the National Radio & Video Promotion representative. It was my job to get all of our artist’s music played on the appropriate radio stations, video channels, and dance clubs. I was part of an excellent team of passionate and talented individuals who were essentially selling an arguably high priced, recorded product that was quickly losing demand.
The economy was what it was, business needs to survive, demand was low, technology was changing, the music business had to start cutting jobs to survive, while changing many lives in the process. It was what it was and it is what it is today.
How can the recorded music business survive without adapting? It can’t. It won’t. It didn’t. It still hasn’t.
Meanwhile, 99% of the music files (songs!) that are on Napster are pirated songs by well-known artists.
Everyone involved in the music business felt the affects of Napster. It wasn’t just me or anyone that worked at record labels. Music artists were pissed too. Remember the whole Metallica vs. Napster war? The band sued Napster!
“It is sickening to know that our art is being traded like a commodity rather than the art that it is,” said Metaliica drummer Lars Ulrich in a statement on the group’s website. He goes on to say that Napster has “devised and distributed software whose sole purpose is to permit Napster to profit by abetting and encouraging” piracy.
Hip Hop artists were also uncomfortable with Napster. New Apple employee and one of the owners of Beats, Dr. Dre simply had this to say: “Fuck Napster!”
How Napster Changed The Music Industry
Alex Suskind wrote a great piece on TheDailyBeast.com that looks at exactly how this free music service, created by two amateur developers, essentially sunk the recorded music business and changed my life forever.
For the record, my life changed but the better, so all is good. But there were plenty of casualties due to Napster.
Or was it due to the music industry not adapting or attempting to adapt way too late.
Back to Alex’s post, Suskind spoke with a dozen music journalists and editors of their thoughts on Napster – their initial feelings about it, whether they used it, its overall effect on the industry and music listeners, and any other memorable stories they had.
Influential music scribes like Chris Molanphy (Pitchfork and Slate), Brian Hiatt (Rolling Stone), Robin Hilton (NPR’s All Songs Considered), and Dan Rys (XXL) have some hard hitting and brutally honest things to say. It all rings true as well.
“A kid born the year Napster came out, I’m sure, would wonder why you would bother storing all that data now that you can just stream music for free on YouTube”
It’s a great article that you can read what all 12 had to say here.
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