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Ripped: How The Wired Generation Revolutionized Music by Greg Kot

By Rusty | Books | September 29, 2009 |

By Rusty | Books | September 29, 2009 |

I suspect this particular review will not make me a lot of friends on the internet. Here goes anyway.

Greg Kot’s Ripped has a rough timeline of late 90’s to about 2006 and covers many of the major events in electronic music during that time. From the rise of Napster, to the issues of net neutrality, to the ways the internet can allow artists to bypass record companies entirely, Kot covers many aspects of how the Music Industry is changing and interviews people on the front lines of these changes. In between chapters, he has brief quotes from laypeople about their relationship with the changing face of music and their opinion on things like illegal downloading. There’s some very interesting sections on things like sampling and interviews with artists who deliberately used the internet to achieve something they couldn’t through traditional marketing, and then there’s artists like Death Cab for Cutie who woke up one day to realize the internet was making them famous and they didn’t even have a website. It does provide a comprehensive overview of the changes taking place within the recording industry specifically, and how those changes began to come about.

(I am currently getting my Masters Degree in Music Business and Entertainment Industries. I will not pretend that I can speak of the content of this book without some subjective opinions so if you don’t want to hear my thoughts on the subject, you’re welcome to bail here.)

Kot and I agree on many things. I do think that the initial illegal downloading cases were bungled. I do think that the nearly $20 CD prices of the late 90’s were ridiculously overpriced. I do think that by prosecuting consumers, the RIAA and record companies in general made enemies out of the very people they needed to endear themselves to at the time. And, ongoing, I do believe that most large record companies are using outdated business models for how to sign, market, and manage their artists. However, where Kot seems to have a somewhat laissez-faire attitude towards the actions of people who participated in illegal downloading and those who still defend it, I don’t hesitate to call it “illegal” or believe that it’s wrong. There’s a lot of quotes in the book from people who are want to justify acquiring and even using music illegally. People who say things like “well, I’d have a lot less music if it weren’t for downloading” or “I only download from artists who can afford it,” there’s even a couple people who talk about “punishing” Metallica for their participation in the RIAA witch hunt by never paying for their music. And on one hand I get it, but here’s the thing; I’d have a lot more shoes if I decided to steal them, and I may only steal them from stores that were really big and could afford to take the loss. I’d still be stealing. Do I want more shoes? Yes. But I’m going to make sure that I balance my budget in such a way that I can pay for them.

Unfortunately, because the music industry was not on top of new technology, I think that illegal downloading is here to stay. I can talk to you all about how if you really respect an artist (and if you want their music you respect them in some way, even if you don’t want to admit it) you’ll purchase their music and give you all the reasons why it’s a good thing and helps the artist, but I know plenty of people won’t listen to me. I think the best way for record companies to combat the current tide is to start revamping recording contracts so that artists actually make more off sales of their music so that the artists themselves will encourage people to buy their music and keep releasing albums through record companies rather than doing what Nine Inch Nails did and selling their own music on a “pay what you like” basis. And consumers can purchase music knowing that the person they’re trying to support, the artist, is actually getting a real cut of the money. If record companies can’t adapt, they will continue to shrink until they only act as clearinghouses for the money coming in off old contracts rather than businesses in their own right.

There’s a lot of changes that need to happen, in short. I’m hoping to go to work to make those changes someday, and create a new model for how artists are compensated and how consumers can access music. In the meantime, though, illegal downloading is no more ‘making a stand’ than shoplifting nail polish in middle school is ‘rebelling’.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. For more of Genny (now just Rusty)’s review, check her blog, Rusty’s Ventures.

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.