How Music Got Free

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What better way to kick off discussion of a book documenting the rise and rise of illegal music downloading than with a confession.

From the age of eleven, I openly flirted with what might reasonably be termed, at least in the context of what’s about to be talked about here, low-grade criminality.

See, for at least a good decade, I was pretty handy at and was quite frankly an open practitioner of, the home music-taping craze that began sometime around the late seventies and continued on right throughout the 1980’s.

I remember it well.

Every night after dinner I’d be ensconced in my bedroom, seated at my flourescent lamp-lit wooden study desk with one eye on my ‘social studies’ homework while two lightning fast trigger fingers were poised at the ready hovering like the tallons of a ravenous eagle over the plastic ‘Play‘ and ‘Record’ buttons of a cutting edge piece of tech known back then as a radio cassette recorder (with a duel-head tape deck – I can still talk 80’s when I need to!).

Junior criminal mastermind that I was, I’d have my ear cocked like a soldier on midnight sentry duty listening for the opening notes of any of my favourite songs. When one started playing, I’d spring into action literally at the speed of sound and slam down those two next-to-each-other plastic buttons on the cassette recorder faster than you could say “Video Killed the Radio Star” and whamo, the net was dropped on another Top 40 piece of free ‘tune loot’ I’d most likely had in my aural crosshairs for days, maybe weeks.

mix tape

I made countless mix tapes by this means and in doing so denied the recording industry of the time, of what, over the years, would have amounted to thousands of dollars of income had I chosen to buy this music on cassette, vinyl record or later CD at the bricks ‘n mortar music stores you don’t see around anymore.

And like flared jeans, Kodak ‘Brownie’ cameras and Radio Station 4IP (later briefly Radio 10) that all seems so long ago, some days I wonder if maybe I imagined the whole thing.

Fast forward twenty-five years to the early 2000’s and courtesy of the advent of the internet coupled with file-sharing and streaming technologies not to mention the birth of the MP3, and the plundering of an entire multi-billion dollar industry was now happening on an unprecedented industrial scale.

Pirate 2

While four decades ago, I and armies of adolescents like me, armed with $50 radio cassette recorders and enough patience and spare time, could eventually gather together a handpicked collection of songs without paying for them simply by waiting around for hours on end for the right Top 40 hit to come on the radio at a randomly selected moment chosen by the radio station, by the early years of the 21st century with the digitized assistance of such major league behemoths of the ‘ripping’ scene as Napstar and BitTorrent, stealing music had become an infinitely easier and far more abundantly rewarding past time than previous generations could ever have imagined possible.

Millions of songs along with the entire albums from which these tunes were birthed were now available for free 24 hours a day at the click of a mouse.

How exactly the music industry of this time was brought to its knees quite to this extent is the subject of the book HOW MUSIC GOT FREE, written by U.S author Stephen Witt. Stated simply, this is one of the most unputdownable books I’ve read in recent years, which, in a great many of its chapters, is written more in the style of a Tom Clancy hi-tech espionage thriller than a modern history account.

In my next post I’ll attempt to lay bare some of the advances in music compression technology that gave birth to the MP3 revolution and unleashed pure chaos on an industry that was transformed forever, and today, in terms of earned revenue, resembles nothing but an emaciated shadow of its former self.

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Ps. Recently I mentioned a newly released short story collection by Hollywood A-lister Tom Hanks called UNCOMMON TYPE. The book features 17 stories that all revolve around, to varing degrees, typewriters. Apparently Hanks is a vintage typewriter collector. With that in mind it’s understandable he (and a company called Hitcents.com) have released a free app for iPhones and iPads that reproduces the sound and feel of typing on an old manual typewriter (including the ‘bing’ sound when you reach the end of a line plus the manual carriage return audio fx). If you have a nostalgic hankering to return to a part of your pre-digital life, check out the app HANX WRITER. 

View a product review HERE (forward to the two and a half minute mark for a demo of HANX WRITER

Pss. It may have taken 174 years but someone’s finally written a sequel to Charles Dickens‘ novella A CHRISTMAS CAROL (published in 1843). It’s called TINY TIM AND THE GHOST OF EBENEZER SCROOGE.

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Psss. Speaking of Charles Dickens, there’s a new movie out based on “the inspiring true story” of how he wrote A Christmas Carol. It’s called THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS and stars Christopher Plummer.

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Pssss. Sporting bio time again! Everyone’s favourite Melbourne Storm fullback Billy Slater has just released his autobiography and will be signing copies this Sunday morning at Garden City Shopping Centre Mt Gravatt.

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12 thoughts on “How Music Got Free

  1. **sits down and slowly raises hand**

    … I too am guilty of taping selected ‘top 40’ songs onto a little portable cassette recorder that was the first thing I ever bought for myself as a paycheck-earning 14yo. (long story) … the first song I ever recorded was Rhiannon, by Fleetwood Mac. 🙂 … and I cursed to the deepest pits of hell the DJ,s who would do a fade out/fade in from one song to the next so there was no clear end of one song and start of the next. 🙂

    I didn’t stick to my nefarious ways once I was able to afford the real thing. 🙂 I probably got tired of those dastardly DJ’s.

    Looking forward to learning new stuff in your next post. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I remember that ‘song tampering by radio stations’ angst (which included dj’s talking over the intro or outro of a song) vividly myself.
    And I remember the floating angelic melody and dreamy lyrics of Rhiannon by Fleetwood Mac.

    “Rhiannon rings like a bell through the night
    And wouldn’t you love to love her?
    Takes through the sky like a bird in flight”.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Also guilty of pressing play and record on the old cassette recorder.
    Having a daughter who works as a musician, I know first hand how hard it is for them to follow their passion in this industry. Music feeds the soul and we all need to respect those that bring us such wonderful and powerful joy. Thankyou Glen for putting the topic out there.
    PS . She’s confirmed and off to the Grammy’s 2018 in New York.Just a little excited!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Thank you for sharing everyone. My name is Roger, and I am a music taker…

    I think we know where that’s heading.

    That was quite a memory trip going back to the days of the “press record and play buttons”. I amassed quite a number of radio mix cassettes too. My addiction didn’t stop there though. I indulged in the hard stuff too – vinyl, and lots of it. I’d take it on high volume, and even competed with neighbours who were doing vinyl too, across the road.

    I never really came to terms with the problem I had with this highly addictive product. Like many addicts I guess, I started making my own, and selling it late at night at an Australian restaurant in Pasadena, California, called The Billabong. I even got a call from Patricia Seidel, from Neil Seidel Music, who told me over the phone she heard I was an “opera singer”.

    Even though heavily under the influence when I took the call, I was rather taken aback by that particular jab at my musically inebriated ego. I queried the claim, and then she changed it to “ocker singer”, which made more sense.

    Apparently I was the only “ocker” pusher in the whole LA Basin at the time, and Patricia somehow got to hear of me and my lab. Word on the streets has a way I guess. I guess the Police didn’t care, in spite of my name and reputation out there.

    Patricia then asked me if I’d like to play along side another pusher called Olivia Newton John at a party she was putting on for the Australian Olympic Team at the LA Olympics that year (1984?).

    Went to an interview where I met ONJ’s business partner, and Patricia Seidel. I think they decided they didn’t want to dilute her particular smack with mine. She flew out a bunch of obscure pushers from Australia who went by the name of Little River Band.

    Imagine coming second to a bunch of smack pushers called LRB! The insult was almost too much to bear, but that really is how low one can go when one gets serious with taking music and gets onto the hard stuff like vinyl, and then making it yourself to push on other addicts.

    Am I ashamed? I know I should be. I don’t think I’m even sorry, which really is a statement of how bad things can get when you take music and won’t face the fact you have a problem. I shudder to think what it has been doing to my family. Perhaps, amidst the swirl of self denial, being able to question what effect it is having on those I love most is a glimmer of hope in the midst of my music induced dysphoria…

    Like

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