December 28, 2000
Napster promises free music to those who have a computer, a disregard for copyright, and lots of free time. That sounds like a good deal to most folks but that's not the promise that I'm waiting for to be fulfilled. I want something more. Something which is still missing.
I realized what I was missing the day I listened to NPR and in particular, an awful track from a Ponderosa Christmas album from years past. This song was bought to my ears courtesy of a Chicago NPR radio programme called "The Annoying Music Show".
The show brought to mind that time in the fifties and sixties when music recording was so cheap and accessible that almost every local band, every beat poet, and every two-bit actor could put out a record. Even my old high school band cut an album; I remember my band teacher holding it up to my music class in with pride. Granted, making music recording available to the masses meant that there would be much annoying music recorded. The Re/Search guides to Incredibly Strange Music documents this tendency very well.
Now let's fast forward to the year 2000. When you listen to the radio, you get the impression that there are only forty recording artists in the entire world that are allowed to produce music. It is an accepted fact that if you wanted to make music that your neighbourhood could hear that you would have to have, at a minimum, nation-wide appeal and support to get on the radio.
And if you are disgusted with your radio and you walk into a 'record store', things aren't much better. Sure, you are confronted with most of the best of the last fifty years of popular recorded music, but if you took out all the new releases (minus the reissues and boxed sets) and placed all the truly new music in a place on its own, I suspect it would be a pretty small collection.
Don't believe me? Look who's on top of the music charts: The Freaking Beatles.
Napster has not filled what's missing from music : a means of promoting and distributing music from the multitude of artists that the big five recording companies will not support or promote. Worse, I don't think Napster is going to be the giant-killer that most folks think it's going to be. In fact, I think it's more likely that Napster will kill small-record labels before it puts a dent in the Sony Corporation.
Granted, the promise of a new musical landscape wasn't the promise of Napster. That was another company: a company that has not yet been mentioned in any of the year 2000 reviews that I've read so far...
So when you read your year-end wrap ups that go on about the success of Napster in the coming days, don't forget about the failure of MP3.com.