Thursday, September 24, 2015

How Music Got Free

How Music Got Free- By Stephen Witt

"I am a member of the pirate generation." So starts Witts book about the deeper story behind the collapse and stutter-start reorganization of the music industry. I'm not generally a fan of music books, and I'm not generally a fan of business books but I weirdly kind of like music business books. And so, with no more justification than that, I thrust this choice on you.

That's how this works, right?

Here are some reviews:
New York Times
The Telegraph


Chapter 1.
Tyler: I am midway through chapter one, and I have to say I'm seeing this as a movie. Witt is doing a good job of taking a subject I thought I had little interest in, and putting it in a familiar dramatic context: “Brandenburg needed a virtuoso, a caffeine-addled superstar who could translate graduate-level mathematical concepts into flawless computer code. At Fraunhofer he found his man: a 26-year-old computer programmer by the name of Bernhard Grill.” Such writing has my inner casting-director wondering if Chris Colfer can do a german accent. Perhaps we can crowd-source to buy the film rights?

Tyler: Just finished Chapter 5.
I really like the structure of alternating chapters between the inventors of the technology, the users of the technology, and the music industry itself. I like that Witt understands that stories revolve around character.

Chapter 6.
Tyler: Love the dry tone: “Tupac’s death was a pointless tragedy, to be sure, but it was also an excellent career move.” And, “if Limp Bizkit could go forty times platinum, then literally anyone could."

Chapter 13.
Tyler:  What is so interesting is that the leakers are motivated simply by ego - the credit of being the first to leak a song. This "credit", of course, would only extend out to the other leakers and a handful of blackweb insiders - the wider world would never hear of RNS and its rival crews. But the need for credit is so strong that these guys were risking jail time to get it (a dedication to their work which can not but garner a bit of respect from the reader.) It makes me wonder how many stupid things we all do and say, how much we all risk, for "credit" in our own lives.

Paul: I finished this a few days ago and I've let my thoughts stew a little. I read it entirely on my phone, a paperback sized piece of technology bursting at the seams with the stolen music that the book.... that the book what?  Laments? Catalogues?

I was trying to describe it to my 15 year old daughter on our long drive from town home the other evening- trying to describe a world where we payed for music. Where we would often spend hours in gleaming record stores flipping though CDs elaborately encased in 13 inches of security packaging, or hovering at strange listening stations (where I always felt too self conscious to listen to anything for more than about 30 seconds), or chatting up cooler than thou,  be-pierced employees about whether all of Judas Priest was gay, or if it was just Rob Halford. 

She doesn't pay for music and never has.  Even though she and her friends consume/suck/devour music in a way I never would have imagined. I can't even, she says. That so weird, she says. She puts her ear buds back in, tired of my dumb tales about growing up in the Aztec times or whatever.

Tyler: I too feel really old. I find myself wondering how Artist make any money these days when they get so little from a download. The big stars seem to still be living the big star lifestyle, so there is still big money for the few at the top I guess.

As much as I miss the physical packaging; double albums with gate-folds - art you could hold and look at while you listened - maybe there is something more pure about the music that has to stand alone without all that other stuff. I don't know.

I liked how he tried to portray everyone in a somewhat favourable light. I found his repeated attempts to paint the German inventors has hypocrites for denouncing music piracy while machining fortunes from MP3 licensing seemed a bit of a stretch. So few scientists get rich that you can't really dislike those guys for actually profiting from years of hard, thankless work.

A very good book. Thanks, Paul, for picking something I would never have tried on my own.

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