A man from one of the majors ... said the answer was to ban the internet
June 3, 2019 8:49 PM   Subscribe

June 1999, and the music industry is rolling in cash. Bloated by the vast profits of the CD business, which reached a high of £30.6bn that year, the future looks bright for the suits at the top. Sadly for them, in a dorm at Boston’s Northeastern university, a precocious coder is about to blow it all apart. Oversharing: how Napster nearly killed the music industry -- Twenty years ago, the idea of free music was so compelling that up to 80m users downloaded Napster and broke the law. The aftershocks are still being felt today. (The Guardian)

More context, mostly linking to Wikipedia: 1999 was only two years after Duran Duran released the first commercially available digital download (the same year that Hotline Communications Limited was founded, to continue the development of the then up-and-coming information and file sharing platform).

1999 was a year after Ritmoteca.com was the first online music store to get major label backing, the same year as the first (and rather expensive) solid state digital audio player, the MPMan, came on the market.

CNN had their finger on the pulse of digital audio in 1999, but left Napster off their list of top sites and apps for MP3s in November of that year, though they did include four MP3 search engines to help you scour FTP sites for MP3s (of unknown legality). They should have been talking to some guy named Matt Haughey (mathowie), who wrote "Napster is the greatest thing to happen to mp3's since . . . well since anything I guess." on Nov. 12, 1999 (previously).
posted by filthy light thief (63 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
That damn myth that Napster hurt the music industry. They never actually showed any damage; people were just as likely to listen to a song and then buy the whole album.

The fact of the matter was that the music industry saw an artificial boom as an entire generation (Baby Boomers) were converting their music collection from albums to CDs throughout the 90s. There were as many remasters as new albums sold, but they'd mined that vein dry.

It also just happens that radio had consolidated and folks weren't hearing nearly as much new music as they might have otherwise. The late 90s and early 00s were a nadir for mainstream music.

Napster was a convenient scapegoat for their failure to innovate.
posted by explosion at 9:00 PM on June 3 [64 favorites]


A man from one of the majors… said the answer was to ban the internet

Probably the better outcome, really.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:09 PM on June 3 [29 favorites]


It was a close call but I'm just glad Metallica survived.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 9:22 PM on June 3 [14 favorites]


Being a massive Duranie, how did I not know that Electric Barbarella was the first commercially available downloadable song??
posted by greermahoney at 9:29 PM on June 3 [5 favorites]


But Napster was by now seriously under threat. The RIAA, the trade body representing US record companies, had begun suing the firm in 1999, and acts including Dr Dre and Metallica tried to close it down. In May 2000, the latter delivered 13 boxes of documents to Napster’s offices, listing hundreds of thousands of users suspected of unlawfully sharing their music.

Napster Bad! [NSFW]
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 9:35 PM on June 3 [11 favorites]


1999 seems to be the year in question. My entirely subjective take is that it was an utterly appalling year for music, particularly of the sells-well variety -- almost as if the Music Biz had cut some deal with Satan (or whoever) that demanded they unload a certain magnitude of sonic awfulness upon the world before the turn of the millennium ... or else.

Not saying Napster (and its ilk) weren't contributing factors in the downturn that followed, but mostly, I'm looking at the gangsters who were running things. Horrible people.
posted by philip-random at 9:40 PM on June 3 [4 favorites]


1999: The year a bunch of people who just wanted free music started a fight with the music industry, and the music industry went Full Villain and managed to appear to be the bad guys, because they were.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:51 PM on June 3 [15 favorites]


people were just as likely to listen to a song and then buy the whole album

That was the case for me in the early days, all the way back to 1996 - I bought lots of CDs (and a bit of vinyl) based on music I was downloading off FTP sites I was finding through IRC. Even ran a small site myself off my 100MHz pentium with a fancy 3 gig drive.

Once we got into the 2003-2005 range and started getting 10+ gig mp3 players and the flash based players like the ipod nano, though, I pirated everything other than the rare CD I wanted to collect. By then PC hard drives were large enough for very large collections, so CDs became superfluous.

Nowdays it's just spotify and sometimes youtube. The idea of manually loading mp3s onto my phone would be like going back to ice boxes and root cellars.
posted by MillMan at 10:09 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure I've said this on here before, but the very first thing my wife said when I showed her what Napster could do was "oh my God, we have to get as much as we can before they shut this down".
posted by yhbc at 10:19 PM on June 3 [33 favorites]


people were just as likely to listen to a song and then buy the whole album.

An incantation chanted by a whole generation of Napster users.

There has never been any research to show that phenomenon exists in any numbers. It’s as faith-based as the record companies claiming Napster was killing them.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:35 PM on June 3 [26 favorites]


people were just as likely to listen to a song and then buy the whole album.

...

There has never been any research to show that phenomenon exists in any numbers.


I agree with the follow up far more than the original assertion, but it was reasonably true of me for a long time.

Now I generally listen to youtube with an ad-blocker (even on mobile) because it's so easy I don't even have to think, and I don't buy anything. I'm not about to get a nasty letter out of this but it's probably not helping any artists either.
posted by deadwax at 10:54 PM on June 3 [4 favorites]




Right about that time a friend of mine’s father (who had been big in the music business before he retired) asked me to take a look at an app being shopped around that would allow users to buy encrypted music online and never ever allow them to get an unencrypted version of it to share.

I sent him back some unencrypted files of music from their servers and tried to explain why what the company was claiming was impossible unless you control the hardware and software end-to-end. I don’t know if I got that point through, but the unencrypted music files definitely ended a few nascent deals.

Apparently there are still companies out there claiming to do the same with encrypted video. I often wonder if the people running them know they’re selling products that don’t work.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:58 PM on June 3 [7 favorites]


This reminds me that back in the old dialup BBS era, the Phone Company was forecasting a growing revenue stream from people making long distance phone calls with dialup modems to participate in the new online world.
posted by hank at 11:05 PM on June 3 [3 favorites]


Right about that time a friend of mine’s father (who had been big in the music business before he retired) asked me to take a look at an app being shopped around that would allow users to buy encrypted music online and never ever allow them to get an unencrypted version of it to share.

I was acquainted with a dude who was a BigWig at a major studio circa 2000/2001. He HATED Napster and the like. I kept trying to tell him that the ship had sailed - make it easier to buy an MP3 than Napster or Alt.mp3s did and win. He kept insisting that encryption and subscription was the key to destroying file sharing.

But seriously, LOL. I lolled. I graduated from college in 2007 - and MP3 swap meets were still a thing. I have 200G of music from those days. Hehe.

I sent him an email a few years ago, well after iTunes switched from MP4 to MP3 - asking him who turned out to be
right. His reply: "fuck you". We aren't FB friends any more.

FWIW, I got a bunch of albums from Napster. It sucked, because the quality varies between tracks. I ended up buying those CDs (used) and ripping them properly.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:20 PM on June 3 [17 favorites]


The aftershocks are still being felt today.

Yeah. I still think Lars is a wanker.
posted by hototogisu at 11:29 PM on June 3 [23 favorites]


Man, the music of the late 90s and early 00s was just garbage
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 11:36 PM on June 3 [12 favorites]


These days I’m having a blast finding stuff from the 80’s and 90’s that’s only available on cd, cassette and vinyl and isn’t posted to digital media. Tons of great music out that people can’t be arsed to enjoy cause it involves IRL hacking your way through physical stacks and heaps.
posted by nikaspark at 11:45 PM on June 3 [4 favorites]


He kept insisting that encryption and subscription was the key to destroying file sharing.

But seriously, LOL. I lolled. I graduated from college in 2007 - and MP3 swap meets were still a thing. I have 200G of music from those days. Hehe.

I sent him an email a few years ago, well after iTunes switched from MP4 to MP3 - asking him who turned out to be
right. His reply: "fuck you". We aren't FB friends any more.


well i mean in the long term he WAS right - note the bolded word. streaming is the way most people consume their music these days, and most of that revenue goes into the pockets of execs while artists are paid a fraction of what their work is worth. the suits won in the end.
posted by JimBennett at 12:23 AM on June 4 [7 favorites]


I sent him an email a few years ago, well after iTunes switched from MP4 to MP3 - asking him who turned out to be
right.


Apple never switched formats, they just stopped encrypting them. Both before that and after, the music files are AAC (which is not an Apple-developed format).
posted by D.C. at 12:47 AM on June 4 [4 favorites]


Now I generally listen to youtube with an ad-blocker (even on mobile) because it's so easy I don't even have to think, and I don't buy anything. I'm not about to get a nasty letter out of this but it's probably not helping any artists either.

Yeah, I have a mixed relationship with ad blockers. I wish I could customize Adblock more -- I'd like to be able to say "If you have up to ten non-intrusive ads on your page then ok" and "If you have even a single pop-up ad then don't even show me the page." I'd feel more comfortable just skipping the content entirely if people are going to attach obnoxious advertisements.

However, in this world I'm just using Adblock and feeling mildly guilty about it.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 1:07 AM on June 4 [4 favorites]


Adblock opponents might have a point if ads were still static images or animated gifs or whathaveyou, but they're not- they're programs that run in your web browser, and if even one malicious ad slips past an ad provider, adblock is suddenly what stands between you and your computer being turned into a spam zombie or a Bitcoin miner against your will. Modern web ads are simply too dangerous to permit to run on your computer and a good adblocker should be seen as no different from wearing a condom in a world where sexually-transmitted infections run rampant.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:51 AM on June 4 [49 favorites]


I block trackers and allow ads, and any site who gets pissy about me blocking ads gets an email in response. I don't have ads blocked, they've just given over their content to cowboys.
posted by Merus at 3:12 AM on June 4 [1 favorite]


It was the summer of ‘99 in Tokyo when I biked home from a nearby Tsutaya (rental media chain) with a backpack full of CDs rented for $2.20 each for the weekend.

A gigabyte then was like a terabyte is today, but for some reason I had the foresight to rip at 320, glad I did!

I also joked with the store staff that it might be better to start stocking CDRs instead of blank cassettes ...
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 4:32 AM on June 4 [1 favorite]


Courtney Barnett - "Everything Is Free"
posted by octothorpe at 4:47 AM on June 4 [1 favorite]


Man, the music of the late 90s and early 00s was just garbage.

Maybe what they were playing on Top 40/MOR radio - I saw some truly outstanding shows in those years, and plenty of great music came out on independent labels.

There's almost always worthwhile moving music happening somewhere, in every time and place, for folks willing to get off their asses and go find it.
posted by ryanshepard at 5:19 AM on June 4 [8 favorites]


Man, the music of the late 90s and early 00s was just Garbage

No doubt!
posted by panglos at 5:26 AM on June 4 [24 favorites]


Napster was explosion #1 in my music collection because like everyone else I was interested in hearing more music but I was also a broke-ass grad student. Free was a good price, and it was loads faster than poking around in FTP servers I found on oth.net with ridiculous share ratios set, especially when many of them refused to accept anything except the same kind of weird esoteric music I was looking for. If i didn’t already have it, I had nothing to trade to earn more.

But. Napster made it so easy to share that an awful lot of junk floated to the top. It was no longer people who cared deeply, it was everyone, and many of them didn’t really know what the hell they were sharing. Hence the moron tagging White Zombie as “Blues” and the oft-mentioned “phish-gin_and_juice.mp3”… (poor Gourds, never got the credit!) I think it wasn’t until ca. 2007 before I managed to ferret out the last few mistagged files using MusicBrainz or some such.

Then iTunes came along, sparking the SECOND big explosion in my music library: it was suddenly super-easy to rip discs to quality audio. My brother and I traded CD libraries, and copied everything that looked good; can’t be prosecuted for file sharing if we’re sharing physical media right? Then the Java program that allowed you to not only see but DOWNLOAD everything in a locally shared iTunes library. Word got around on that one in grad school, within days pretty much every grad in my department somehow had near identical libraries - go figure, Apple closed that loophole right quick.

The third music explosion for me? iTunes Match. The idea of paying a small annual fee to upload everything to the cloud, and having it replaced with high-quality copies. The side benefit of knowing that the fee also paid a pittance to the music industry to legitimize the tracks I may have acquired through means other than paying. The fun of having all of it available on all of my devices, on demand, regardless of internal disk capacity, so long as a WiFi connection was available (and after the end of data caps, an LTE signal was enough as well). It wasn’t the matching per se, but having everything in a program that also made it dead easy to buy a track or an album and have it also immediately available everywhere - I have purchased many albums that I originally downloaded, to get extra content or bonus tracks; I’ve picked up new albums form bands I discovered through free file sharing and never would have heard on the radio; I’ve filled in missing tracks from albums where people only shared the top 3-5 popular songs but never heard or owned the remainder.

It is absolutely true that having a higher income as I age is directly related to my willingness to pay for music (and software). But the majority of the platforms delivering the (unencrypted, locally stored, nonsubscription) music to me would not have been developed without the threat of free music destroying the industry. And living in the Midwest, the heart of stale-song classic rock radio hell, if I wanted to hear anything other than Bob Seeger and Ted Nugent for the billionth time, I was SOL before the advent of everyone sharing everything. There are so many bands and genres I would never have guessed I would like, that I would NEVER have encountered, without just downloading everything and giving it a listen. Knowing I already love the band, or being able to stream a preview of every track, makes it so much easier to justify paying for the new album.
posted by caution live frogs at 5:47 AM on June 4 [9 favorites]


My 15 year old self feels so vindicated to know everyone else thought the pop music of 1999-2002 was bad. I was surrounded by NSync cultists at school at that time and dying of loneliness. Eventually Soulseek came into my life and brought music I actually liked. What a difference.
posted by bleep at 5:49 AM on June 4 [1 favorite]


The music industry got what it deserved. Some time in the 1960s, they said “Hey! Instead of just selling singles, let’s make entire albums, and force people to buy 12 songs just to get the one they want!” Market correction.
posted by Melismata at 5:57 AM on June 4 [5 favorites]


Thanks for the shout out to Hotline, which was my first exposure to the wild world of MP3 sharing.

Sincerely,
A guy who ran a Hotline server out of his buddy's dorm room in 1998.
posted by davros42 at 6:32 AM on June 4 [6 favorites]


Adblock opponents might have a point if ads were still static images or animated gifs or whathaveyou, but they're not- they're programs that run in your web browser, and if even one malicious ad slips past an ad provider, adblock is suddenly what stands between you and your computer being turned into a spam zombie or a Bitcoin miner against your will. Modern web ads are simply too dangerous to permit to run on your computer and a good adblocker should be seen as no different from wearing a condom in a world where sexually-transmitted infections run rampant.

Also, as long as Comcast puts a data cap on my service and charges me for overages, I will decide what gets downloaded on my internet service. Ads are extra unnecessary data, sorry advertisers.
posted by Fleebnork at 6:41 AM on June 4 [15 favorites]


Blues was ID3 code 00, so *lots* of things were identified as "blues" by players that read that tag, just because they never had any other value set there.
posted by Wolfdog at 6:43 AM on June 4 [12 favorites]


The battle with Napster also instilled an image of the music business as grasping and arrogant. “Even today, the music sector are perceived as control freaks, living in the old world and trying to hold back innovation,” says [Helen Smith, director of business affairs at AIMSmith] “Obviously, that is not the case, but that image still haunts us today. That is one of the biggest downsides of what happened with Napster.”

Oh my goodness, the schadenfreude is so overwhelming I think I sprained something.
posted by Mayor West at 6:48 AM on June 4 [12 favorites]


Modern web ads are simply too dangerous to permit to run on your computer and a good adblocker should be seen as no different from wearing a condom in a world where sexually-transmitted infections run rampant.

I really wish dudes would stop with the comparing every single fucking thing in the world to a condom.
posted by medusa at 6:57 AM on June 4 [9 favorites]


Also: the RIAA straight-up murdered the golden goose. Spotify just rolled over 100 million paying users; that's ~$10 billion in annual revenue, which could have been going to the labels. Nope. They decided everyone using Napster was a filthy pirate who needed to be sued into submission, rather than doing ten seconds of analysis and realizing that people actually just want an easy way to get access to their music without having to dig through the glove compartment for the right cassette tape. Piracy was EASY. It was several orders of magnitude easier to download an album from a not-so-legal online source than it was to actually buy a digital copy, and the digital copies all had insane copy-prevention built into them that locked you down to a single player. I stopped pirating music as soon as there was a reasonable alternative that let me play the music I paid for on the device of my choice. It took the recording industry FIFTEEN YEARS to sort that problem out, during which they lost hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue due their own blockheaded stupidity. If we lived in anything like the free market that recording industry execs purport to idolize, these assholes would have been driven out of business decades ago, but instead we get think-pieces like this in the Guardian.
posted by Mayor West at 6:58 AM on June 4 [15 favorites]


A guy who ran a Hotline server out of his buddy's dorm room in 1998.

I had a nice Hotline server running off of a PowerBook 3400 for a few years. I’d like to thank Cox Cable for not giving a shit about the insane amount of bandwidth.
posted by porn in the woods at 7:00 AM on June 4 [3 favorites]


I'll side with whichever party can make a credible case that if they had had their say, Dick Dale would have been able to retire with dignity instead of touring while on chemo.
posted by ocschwar at 7:37 AM on June 4 [20 favorites]


Adblock opponents might have a point if

I worked for a while (and got paid stupid money) for a few DOT.coms that never went anywhere back in the late 90s, early 00s. How to make everything pay for itself quickly became a recurring (and heated) topic of discussion. What annoyed the hell out of me at the time was that nobody with any kind of influence/power seemed to have any idea beyond ridiculous DRM schemes and/or advertising.

In other words, from a corporate perspective it was going to be the old ways (applied versions of existing TV and motion picture and music biz models) or no way at all, aided and abetted by criminalizing their best customers. Eventually Steve Jobs and iTunes would shake things up, of course, but I was no longer working in the biz by then (the gravy train having run dry). I had issues with the iTunes model as well, but at least they grasped that the genii was out of the bottle -- that folks were not remotely interested in artificially going back to a marketplace where pretty much everything was locked down and tilted in favor of the various powers that be. "F*** those guys!" etc.

I'll side with whichever party can make a credible case that if they had had their say, Dick Dale would have been able to retire with dignity instead of touring while on chemo.

Sometime around 2003, I think it was at Slashdot, I recall tracking a rather fascinating discussion among various high-functioning geeks as to what the file sharing future of the arts-marketplace should be ... because they grasped that for this brief (and doomed to be fleeting) moment in history, they had the power. They could determine a future that would work better for everyone who wasn't a thug or gangster. Or so it seemed anyway. The key question being, given that we can now get anything digital for free -- how shall we find a way to reward (and encourage) those who are creating the stuff we love?

In retrospect, I think what they (we) got wrong was it wasn't us (the various visionaries and tech-pros who were designing and building the future marketplace) that had the power -- it was the everyday consumers, the billions of people worldwide (most of them young) who had quickly adapted to a reality where there was a whole bunch of things you just didn't need to pay for anymore. So what little spare change they did have (and let's face it, most of the world doesn't have much spare change) -- that was now available to go to other things.

Or as I heard it put once in one of the dot.com meetings: "What are people willing to pay for? Stuff they can't easily get for free." This, of course, got shouted down.

If this whole thing was a late 60s/early 70s revisionist movie, I suspect it would conclude with the formerly bright-eyed, now bleary anti-heroes looking each other in the eyes and saying, "We blew it."
posted by philip-random at 9:34 AM on June 4 [6 favorites]


Nobody gonna mention IUMA? Internet Underground Music Archive? OLD SCHOOL! (LOL, of course that had no effect on hurting the industry).

That said, I don't regret it. Frankly, if the labels had done their job right, maybe they would have been on board and making their shit available from day one and found a way, but instead, monopolies gonna monopolize.

Honestly I hate streaming services, even though I used them, (mostly youtube, but I won't join YT Red). I have a music server on my comp, and really need to do more to OWN music than stream, because streaming makes us all part of their "we own the music" bs.
posted by symbioid at 9:47 AM on June 4 [2 favorites]


Remember MP3.com? That was another failed attempt, but I felt that was probably the most legitimate attempt before Napster, too... Then after how much money spent on lawyers, finally google got them to relent and released the same goddamned thing (the "locker" concept). And everyone does it.
posted by symbioid at 9:51 AM on June 4 [1 favorite]


[A few comments deleted; fair point but let's skip the extended derail about what metaphor to use.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 10:16 AM on June 4 [1 favorite]


To this day I've never used a platform that performed as well as Napster did. I don't know what black magic they used for searching, but I found exactly what I wanted every single time. The exact song, the exact version, the exact quality. Consistently.

Now I can't even reliably find a Youtube video even if I know the exact title. I think it had something to do with just serving me exactly what I searched for rather than injecting some algorithm nonsense to show me what it thinks I should want.
posted by FakeFreyja at 10:35 AM on June 4 [6 favorites]


omigod hotline

to be honest, my memory is the community really peaked right before napster showed up and the commercialization attempt/ensuing onslaught of windows users.

hotline for me was a great resource for me in my early teenaged years (combined with the privilege of access to a well-equipped powermac) where i learned a ton about graphics design, music production, a little game development/programming, and editing resource forks to create edgy icon packs

i miss the old internet and illicit communities hosted out of misappropriated university resources, chatting idly and sharing many thousands of dollars of fancy software to bored suburban kids who wanted something better than family home evening and football practice

i feel like the massively multiplayer java game that was the facade for one of my favorite servers probably never worked out
posted by polyhedron at 11:09 AM on June 4 [1 favorite]


I think I have an mp3.com courier bag from back in the day when they sent everyone with music on their site stuff. Of course this is back when Amazon used to send me a coffee mug every year as thanks for using their service.

In other news, YouTube recently got tough and made extension services that downloaded videos no longer work. This makes me sad as I used them to download old live concerts and out of print albums. I hate streaming music and the big services for some odd reason don’t have large collections of 78’s and wax cylinders.
posted by misterpatrick at 11:21 AM on June 4 [3 favorites]


1999 also marked the first download-only album released by a major label: They Might Be Giant's 'Long Tall Weekend' on eMusic.com.
posted by Quonab at 11:35 AM on June 4 [1 favorite]


Then the Java program that allowed you to not only see but DOWNLOAD everything in a locally shared iTunes library. Word got around on that one in grad school, within days pretty much every grad in my department somehow had near identical libraries - go figure, Apple closed that loophole right quick.

I have very fond memories of browsing the libraries of my dorm late at night. My best discovery made this way was probably Mothership Connection by Parliament, which I had never even heard of before but was absolutely a revelation. So thank you, to whoever it was that had a copy of that.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 11:54 AM on June 4 [5 favorites]


>> Then the Java program that allowed you to not only see but DOWNLOAD everything in a locally shared iTunes library. Word got around on that one in grad school, within days pretty much every grad in my department somehow had near identical libraries - go figure, Apple closed that loophole right quick.

> I have very fond memories of browsing the libraries of my dorm late at night. My best discovery made this way was probably Mothership Connection by Parliament, which I had never even heard of before but was absolutely a revelation. So thank you, to whoever it was that had a copy of that.

Oh, this was called ShareTunes, wasn't it? I was a postdoc in university-provided housing and the local network had lovely music collections available to browse. I had people sucking down my expansive Pink Floyd and Beatles and Jethro Tull collections (a network monitor would show you specific files being accessed) while I checked out Belle & Sebastian and Death Cab for Cutie and bands in the local Cambridge indie scene...
posted by RedOrGreen at 12:08 PM on June 4 [1 favorite]


Now I can't even reliably find a Youtube video even if I know the exact title. I think it had something to do with just serving me exactly what I searched for rather than injecting some algorithm nonsense to show me what it thinks I should want.

It wasn't just Napster. There for a while it seemed liked search engines of all sorts were getting really good. You could search for like "that thing I saw once on a French website in 1998" and probably find it. It really was like some kind of magic. That "I'm feeling lucky" button on Google was weirdly useful.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 12:14 PM on June 4 [5 favorites]


google is mostly trying to sell you shit in search results now. It's not about information anymore. And it sucks.
posted by nikaspark at 12:32 PM on June 4 [4 favorites]


I pirated a ton of music because I had already bought a lot of the same music on LPs, CDs, and digital. Each format seemed to cost more despite being cheaper for manufacturers.

I also pirated a ton of stuff that wasn't available to buy, which I would have bought if I could've.

For a while I'd buy music from gray market outlets at a lower price point.

Now I just use Spotify.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:54 PM on June 4 [1 favorite]


It wasn't just Napster. There for a while it seemed liked search engines of all sorts were getting really good. You could search for like "that thing I saw once on a French website in 1998" and probably find it. It really was like some kind of magic. That "I'm feeling lucky" button on Google was weirdly useful.

I wonder what happened? I've felt a general discontent with the major search engines for like eight or so years now. My gut says constant SEO arms-race adjustments killed the possibility of any nuance in search results.
posted by FakeFreyja at 1:00 PM on June 4 [3 favorites]


1999 also marked the first download-only album released by a major label: They Might Be Giant's 'Long Tall Weekend' on eMusic.com.

Wow, beat Public Enemy's "There's a Poison Goin' On" by one day.
posted by look busy at 1:06 PM on June 4


I used all manner of file-sharing (Audiofind, IRC, FTP, Napster, Kazaa, eMule, etc) to find music and bought as much as I could. I still have almost 500 CDs and vinyls. I even signed up for EMusic back when they first launched. Now, I still buy the odd physical album, I crowdfund musicians and buy stuff from Bandcamp. I can't speak to anyone else, nor do I care to, but piracy was exactly what lead to artists and labels getting quite a lot of my money.
posted by Dark Messiah at 1:27 PM on June 4


1999 also marked the first download-only album released by a major label: They Might Be Giant's 'Long Tall Weekend' on eMusic.com.

Oh, right! There was also Bowienet and the release of "Telling Lies" (intially as download-only) in 1996.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 2:59 PM on June 4


hotline for me was a great resource for me in my early teenaged years (combined with the privilege of access to a well-equipped powermac) where i learned a ton about graphics design, music production, a little game development/programming, and editing resource forks to create edgy icon packs

Hotline was a really great community from 1997-2002 or so. Lots of graphic artists (Hotline came out on the Mac first) hosting over cable modems or university connections. Sites like n0ise, Unkl Meat’s Hash Hut, Manifest Destiny, pepevision, homie - what a great time.
posted by porn in the woods at 4:54 PM on June 4


"What are people willing to pay for? Stuff they can't easily get for free."

Yeah, this. People only have so much disposable income, and what they don't spend on one thing they tend to spend on another. The size of the metaphorical pie isn't entirely constant, it changes due to how the economy is doing, and we hope that in general it gets bigger over time due to growth and (more importantly and sustainably) productivity improvements, but people selling entertainment don't really have much control over that. Within the market for entertainment goods—which is what music is, writ large—it's sort of zero sum.

Music, in the form of LPs and especially during the CD era, captured a big chunk of entertainment spending. I don't think this was sustainable, regardless of what happened with file sharing. As others have pointed out, quite a bit of it was older consumers re-buying music they already owned in other formats, like LPs and tapes, on CD—which was advertised as the "perfect sound forever" uber-format. The last format you'd ever need to buy, which is why CDs originally sold for $30+.


But this came at a hidden cost, which was reduced spending in other areas of entertainment and discretionary spending. Someone who spends $35 one week on a CD isn't spending $35 on something else, and vice versa—someone who pirates that music now has $35 left in their pocket for other stuff, and they're probably gonna spend it.

I think computer hardware companies like Apple probably benefited handsomely from file sharing; you need a computer, so right off the bat it increases the value of their hardware. And if someone has several hundred extra dollars as a result of using their computer to download music, well, that's just money there for the capturing.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:52 PM on June 4 [2 favorites]


It wasn't just Napster. There for a while it seemed liked search engines of all sorts were getting really good.
Oh I think my favorite was AudioGalaxy. It was the first I used that could actually pause a download and pick up later if something happened and got disconnected. But their recommendations feature was actually good and I found alot of good new music that way.


I downloaded so much stuff back then. Now I buy CD's because I have the money and I'm not into the streaming services. I don't want to have to keep paying a monthly fee to have access to my library when I can buy a CD once and have it forever.

There's lots of questions on how to support artists and my favorite way is to go to their shows and buy merch. Granted, I've always lived within an hour's drive of a major city so that hasn't been a problem for me. How to support artists that are no longer touring though...not sure about that one.
posted by LizBoBiz at 12:50 AM on June 5 [1 favorite]


A major part of why search engines are no longer as good as they used to be is Google guessing what you meant instead of what you typed. That, and the loss of the +/- switch when they launched Google+.

I often search for a very specific thing, and Google immediately assumes I wanted to search for an unrelated thing instead. Something like “program does thing X when that option is disabled” and Google helpfully provides 3,000 results all of which are YouTube videos showing me how to turn on option X, when what I really wanted was some info on why disabling the option didn’t do anything. Yes I know how to turn it on, I want it OFF. So I spend 20 minutes rephrasing the search before I give up in disgust. ‘Program +“option X”-enable’ would have helped if it still worked. I’m not even sure that the “inurl” switch still works. Google even ignores quotes now so searching for exact phrase is way harder than it used to be. And it helpfully corrects spelling, which is ok unless the thing it corrects it to is not the thing I wanted.

I liked search better when it wasn’t so smart I guess. Yes it was harder to learn how to use it, but the outcome was so much more relevant and accurate than the crap served today.
posted by caution live frogs at 5:15 AM on June 5 [3 favorites]


Some time in the 1960s, they said “Hey! Instead of just selling singles, let’s make entire albums, and force people to buy 12 songs just to get the one they want!”

Oh. My. God. This had never occurred to me. Never once did I think there was a first full album, and that, of course, the reasons were monetary.

I feel really dumb.
posted by greermahoney at 7:18 PM on June 6


I remember buying singles on cassette tapes. I probably still have some in a memory box somewhere. So I guess singles made a comeback at some point.
posted by LizBoBiz at 9:42 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]


Now where did I put my cassingles collection?
posted by ActingTheGoat at 10:04 PM on June 6


I don't want to have to keep paying a monthly fee to have access to my library when I can buy a CD once and have it forever.
I mostly view my Apple Music subscription fee as the cost of never having to do the rip-and-sync dance. I still buy music, too -- stuff I feel like is more durable, if you take my meaning -- and most of that is from my local record shop on CD or vinyl. But the ease of use you get with AM is just amazing.
A major part of why search engines are no longer as good as they used to be is Google guessing what you meant instead of what you typed. [...] I liked search better when it wasn't so smart, I guess.
Preach.
posted by uberchet at 1:39 PM on June 13


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