1999 was a good year for music, and I probably bought more CDs in 1999 and 2000 than at any other time in my life. Part of the reason for my excitement in music stemmed from my age and where I was at that time in my life, but the other, probably larger, reason came from Napster. Napster created a social environment built around music that made it easy to listen to new things, connect with like-minded people, and access out-of-print music.
One of the misconceptions that people had and continue to have of Napster, is that everyone on it simply stopped buying music and downloaded everything for free. That is patently false. True, Napster made me a more discerning consumer of music. I could sample all the tracks from an upcoming CD, instead of relying on the one or two tracks on the radio. Consequently, I didn’t end up buying a CD that had only one good song, but I probably bought more music on a whole because I was able to find new things quickly, and I wasn’t wasting my money on shitty CDs with one decent track (Jimmy Ray, I’m looking at you).
Also, the tracks available on Napster were usually of poor quality, and there’s simply something cool about owning the physical disc and album artwork. Things I liked I bought. iTunes, Amazon MP3, and Last.fm have proven that this model is still viable. Offer free music or high quality samples as an incentive and as a goodwill effort, and if the price is reasonable, people will actually buy more music.
Napster originally started as a place for fans to trade live recordings of their favorite bands, and until its demise, Napster was the best place in the world to find live or out-of-print material. I had a good number of MP3s that were from concerts, or international recordings that are difficult or impossible to find now. Sadly, I suffered a hard drive crash in 2001 and lost all those files (yes, I back up now). So, if anyone knows where I can get ALT and the Lost Civilization’s version of “Tequilla,” or Candyman’s “Who Shakes the Best II,” please email me.
And then Metallica got all pissy and decided to start issuing lawsuits all willy-nilly because their song “I Disappear” appeared on the Napster network. They had yet to release the song, and they were mad that fans had it before it went on sale. I still wonder why they got mad at the fans. It’s not like a big group of us broke into the studio, stole the masters, and then ripped them into MP3s. Someone who worked for Metallica had to leak the song onto Napster, but instead of finding that one guy and dealing with him, Metallica starting suing people. Colleges. College students. Napster. Sean Fanning. Sue everybody. And Napster slowly died.
Now, I’m not saying that illegal stuff wasn’t taking place on Napster. It most certainly was. But Napster was a work in progress. A brand new way for people to deal with digital music, and it could have been cultivated and reigned in to become responsible. Instead, Metallica showed the RIAA that it payed to sue people for downloading music, and they single-handedly created the litigious and antagonistic attitude that is now part and parcel of the RIAA’s attitude towards the internet. Sue them. Shut it down. Alienate.
And now guess what? Metallica hasn’t been relevant for more than ten years, and they suddenly realized that the internet might very well be a good location for them to gain fans. So now they’re going to offer music for free. Because you know, their last album, “St. Anger,” had softer sales than pulled pork sandwiches at an Eid ul-Fitr party.
I shall offer my reaction to Metallica’s latest internet effort in visual form:
I also read that Gene Simmons thinks the internet is the reason that music sales are down. He claims that:
“The record industry is dead. It’s six feet underground and unfortunately the fans have done this…They’ve decided to download and file share. There is no record industry around so we’re going to wait until everybody settles down and becomes civilized. As soon as the record industry pops its head up we’ll record new material.”
So, P2P and file-sharing is single-handedly responsible for stopping the release of another “album” like “Psycho Circus” or “Carnival of Souls”?
Thank God for file-sharing.
I, myself, have a great deal of anger placed towards Metallica for this, more so than any other artist. Primarily because they weren’t just being assholes about who listened to their music, they were being hypocrites. Before Kill ‘Em All, when the members of Metallica were a bunch of skater punks, they actively encouraged their fans to record bootlegs of their shows and distribute them via a long forgotten scourge of the record industry: blank tapes, which also suffered a litigious onslaught. It was partially because of these bootlegs that Metallica slowly began to rise in fame.
I’ve stolen a lot of music. And I’ve bought a lot of albums and I’ve been to dozens of concerts as a result. I usually buy my music now, or steal it from friends, rather than deal with the rickety file sharing infrastructures that popped up in Napster’s wake. However, like several spurned fans, I will not be purchasing anything associated with Metallica.
Which makes me sad, because the truth is they are actually one of the best rock and roll bands ever, worthy of mentioning in the same breath as Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones.