Growing up, it all seemed so simple. If Guns N Roses or Billy Joel released a new album, you would go down to the local Tower Records, Sam Goody or Mom n Pop record store, buy the record, cassette or cd and either unwrap and listen to it in the car ride home or you would be forced to wait until you got home. Times change, technologies advance, and the world adapts.
Over the course of time, the record was phased out, then the cassette was phased out, then the record slowly made a comeback for audiophiles who preferred analog to digital, then both cd and record lost out to the MP3 when Napster made it easy to upload and share MP3s causing the paradigm shift we live in now.
In the mid 90s, Bad Religion released The Empire Strikes First, but Tower Records charged $18 for it. Being a poor college student at the time, it became impossible to purchase cds at that price because I had no interest in paying approximately $20 for a product I’d been paying almost half the price of months earlier, and not receiving any value benefit for the additional money. To me, seeing Bad Religion at that price didn’t vibe with the punk ethic to which they upheld.
MP3s were hard to rip from cds in the early 2000s, requiring LAME, some technical and quite a bit of time. With the advent of Napster, the interest in sharing music freely inspired simpler methods of encoding it, and began feeding a loop of technology to create the music feeding into technology to distribute it. The record labels didn’t understand how to handle this and instead of adapting, they feebly attempted to grasp an outdated revenue model.
With the digital medium becoming the prevalent format, the recording industry attempted to control it via digital rights management (DRM). DRM allowed the recording industry to control who could listen to their purchased music and where. Instead of being able to take your cd home and put it into any cd player, your computer and/or player needed to be able to support that format with that DRM encryption, and the DRM server needed to remain online in order to continue to authorize your players.
Some music buyers were given an unexpected surprise when the Yahoo and Microsoft music services shut down. For users who chose either of those music services, they found that their purchased music was no longer playable, leaving them with worthless digital files. With service shutdowns, why would users want to trust DRM based services when they can’t even be sure that they can listen to the music they bought, something that never happened when they trusted the music industry with physical music sales.
The Kindle became a similar device for books. Allowing a reader to carry around a shelf full of books like music listeners could carry a music collection in an iPod, it simplified things for those who constantly read on the road. Until the day when George Orwell’s 1984 was unceremoniously removed without warning from the Kindles of those who had purchased it. Kindle users thought they owned their purchased book, only to find that Amazon returned their purchase without notification. Although the Kindle readers were credited the purchase price, they were mortified to find that they could have a book taken away from them so easily, something Amazon has promised they will never do again.
Once people purchase something, they expect to not only be able to use it as long as they desire, but use it in any way they wish. People who embrace music and video like to take what they own and remix it into something new. For years there have been lawsuits involving sampling in hip hop songs to the sampling of a symphonic recording of the Rolling Stones in a Verve song, and each felt they were creating something new based on the previous works, much to the chagrin of the original artists and record labels. DJ Danger Mouse took Jay-Z’s Black Album and remixed it under his auspices, but mixed it with the Beatles’ White Album, much to the chagrin of EMI’s lawyers. Danger Mouse ended up giving away the album on the internet via “underground” means so that those who wished to listen to it could.
There have always been those artists who embrace the remix culture. Artists like Fluke and Pop Will Eat Itself have released entire albums of remixes of their songs to the public. Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails has not only encouraged the sampling and remixing of his songs, but he has dedicated an entire section of his website to showcasing the creations of professional and amateur artists who want to take his music and make it their own.
Once we have purchased something, do we truly own it anymore? When we would have a physical product in our hands, we knew it was ours for as long as we wanted it. We knew we could listen to it as many times as we wanted for as long as we wanted and any way that we wanted until the physical medium or the player degraded to the point of nonfunction. Now, we receive bits and bytes of encoded data that represent the music, movies and books that we want to consume and the industries are balancing the ease of access to these products with draconian ways to keep us from using it how and where we want and how we share it with others. While the industries used to control their products thru price and distribution, the digital age has made both obsolete and the consumer has a chance to fight back, creating a war to see who truly owns the media we consume.
Hey Mr. Record Man
The joke’s on you
Running your label
Like it was 1992
Hey Mr. Record Man,
Your system can’t compete
It’s the New Artist Model
File transfer complete
Download this song!
Download this song!
Download this song!