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Music Business and MP3s

Response to NPR Monitor Mix Blog Entry --

Industry FAIL: Four Musical Mistakes Of The Decade
By Patrick Jarenwattananon

. . .The chief failure of the recording industry this decade, some have written, was its initial decision to treat digital music as an enemy. Rather than find a way to embrace Napster and its 26 million users, the Recording Industry Association of America took legal action against the company, thus only diffusing and intensifying the methods and rate of piracy. With the genie freed from the bottle, the music business is still reeling...


I kept bumping into articles about mp3 files and how they were going to be a game-changer in late 1996. I scoffed--how good could they possibly sound? After all, mp2 files sounded like scratchy AM radio--! Well, I finally downloaded one for a well-known song in 1997 (which took a while...) and as I listened to it, I GASPED. Oh, this WAS going to change everything, especially once broadband became cheaper and more available, a certainty in the coming years. Now if I could see that, why couldn't the music industry?? But no, they all turned a blind eye and a deaf ear and I remember all the leech FTP sites that were around for a couple years -- and then when Napster came along and did what the record companies wouldn't and was mad successful, then there was all this drama from the record companies, rending of garments, gnashing of teeth. Napster didn't hurt the record companies as much as it embarrassed them -- and if Shawn Fanning hadn't come up with it, I'm pretty sure someone else would have, as it used existing technology -- and it allowed the record companies to make Napster a convenient scapegoat and shield their own arrogance and failure.

I miss the original Napster. It was BRILLIANT and was probably the last true ruler of artist and song popularity (with all the obvious payola these days -- also mentioned in the blog entry -- you can't trust the charts anymore). With Napster it was so easy. What is an artist's most popular song? Find the one that most often appears in the service--which may or may not have been a single. Who else has done a particular song? You could find out -- maybe not a fully complete answer but you'd get an idea, sometimes get results of the song's singers in different languages. And if you kept seeing an artist whose name you didn't know again and again and again, you could see what the fuss was all about.

And the thing that the record companies really don't want to talk about, which was proven in a study of the whole situation--? I never bought as many CDs as I did in those years. Period.

So it was great to hear a news story on WBEZ public radio over a month ago with Hilary Rosen, head of RIAA back then, saying that the record companies' failure to find a way to work with the original Napster was a "lost opportunity."