Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music by Greg Kot covers the effects of the internet on music and bands over the last decade, touching on some stuff back in the 90’s like the Beastie Boys mad sampling on Ill
The entire book plays out like a game between the Musicians who want to get their music out, the Fans who want to get the music, the Internet that makes it possible, and THE RIAA who simply doesn’t get it, and fights tooth-and-nail against the whole process of internet file sharing.
Summary of Ripped
“Ripped” presents the first definitive account of the digital music revolution, which changed the way music fans have sought and acquired music and led to the end of the recording industry as we know it. In the mid-1990s, advances in Internet and digital technology made it easy for fans to store, play, and share music, and leveled the playing field between better-marketed major-label bands and smaller independent artists who communicated directly with their audience. Instead of embracing these new possibilities, the music industry turned their customers into criminals with lawsuits, even as on-line music sharing exploded. With firsthand access to artists such as Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, Metallica, Death Cab for Cutie and Arcade Fire, “Ripped” chronicles the industry’s decline and the rise of a worldwide grassroots community that transformed music.
Ripped – The Good
There’s some great information here on how the music industry works, and especially how it does Not work. Payola is explained in layman’s terms, with some dollars thrown in so you can understand the scope of the problem. You also get to read about Clear Channel’s involvement with band tours and ticket sales. The RIAA keeps showing up like Jason in a Friday the 13th movie, rearing it’s ugly head to cause problems just when you think things are going well.
I’d never heard the full story of Metallica’s legal dispute with Napster back in 2000, and I found that chapter very interesting. I wondered how a band so big could do something so absolutely guaranteed stupid as to sue their own fans for sharing their music, especially when they got to be famous because of file sharing (via mix tape trading) in the first place. According to the quotes in “Ripped”, Metallica played it like they didn’t really understand the interwebs or what they were doing. I don’t blame them, since claiming stupidity is better than admitting they are evil, but everyone knows what they did, especially their audience, and they don’t have short memories. I hear Metallica are still making albums though, so I guess it didn’t wreck their career.
The chapter on Prince was also enlightening. It covered his break from his record label, and how he was 1 of the first big artists 2 attempt 2 run his own business over the internet, directly relating 2 his fans. Strangely, you’d think I would have heard about these ‘indie’ releases from Prince, being we both lived in Minnesota at the time.
Ripped – The Bad
After the first few chapters, the stories devolve into the less interesting and less innovative – Death Cab for Cutie, for example, were blissfully unaware of the internet. They were just surprised that people were coming to their shows and wondered how they were finding out about them. No ‘revolution’ here.
I’d rather have seen shorter examples of more bands instead of the few detailed analysis of the handful of bands like Wilco and Arcade Fire which read more like band bios, and could have been condensed. Same thing with the rise of Pitchfork Media – some punk with an opinionated blog becomes a millionaire. Pitchfork’s effect on bands’ record sales was important and an interesting read, but hardly worth an entire chapter.
Sadly, there is no mention of Jagged Spiral, who announced their intention to release their 2007 debut album Days From Evil with a ‘pay what you want’ system on the internet before Radiohead released In Rainbows. And no mention of the band Atmosphere releasing an entire album online for free as a Christmas present for their fans in Dec 2007 (The album Strictly Leakage is still available at this link.)
Of course, Greg Kot hasn’t heard of Jagged Spiral, so I can’t really fault him, but established bands like Radiohead and NIN releasing their albums on the internet for free isn’t news. They were already releasing tracks for free over terrestrial radio. No revolution here. The revolution would be up-and-coming bands like Jagged Spiral and Atmosphere changing their tactics and releasing their music for free and trading in Fortune for Fame; a gamble to jump-start their careers using the internet.
I would have enjoyed a chapter on the RIAA. They only seem to pop up in the book to say “No. You can’t do that.” I would have enjoyed more detail on the RIAA’s decision to endorse DRM (Digital Rights Management) and to read about other copy-prevention methods they might have considered.
Ripped – The Upshot
Ripped gives a good overview of the past ten or so years as music and musicians get more tightly caught up in the internet, and the Recording Industry fights against it every step of the way.