February 24, 2013


Napster: the day the music was set free (Tom Lamont, 2/23/13, The Observer)

"It's difficult to describe to people... how much material was suddenly available," the technology guru John Perry Barlow tells Alex Winter, the director of Downloaded, in his new documentary. Speaking to me on the phone from the US, Winter added: "There was no ramp up. There was no transition. It was like that famous shot from 2001: A Space Odyssey, when the prehistoric monkey throws a bone in the air and it turns into a spaceship. Napster was a ridiculous leap forward."

They're right, it was seismic. I was part of the web-straddling generation. The internet, when it came in our teens, was welcome, exciting and fathomable, but it changed things briskly and sometimes bewilderingly. Music was something you bought after protracted debate with friends in the aisles of Our Price, and then, suddenly, songs were accessible from home. They didn't cost anything. We were wilfully blinkered, probably, on the exact details of this last point.

I asked colleagues of a similar age what they remembered of Napster's arrival. "The thrill," said one, whose first download was by Smashing Pumpkins, "even when I listened to the music through my mum's tinny computer speakers." Another quickly sought to mine Marlena Shaw's backlist and "couldn't believe it worked". For my part - plundering singles by Artful Dodger, by Semisonic - I have a memory of actually looking over my shoulder. How was this possible? It was as if the door to a bank vault had been left open, no guards in sight.

Working in a warehouse in a rural area gives us extraordinarily limited radio options--two stations come in well, one's contemporary country.  This Winter we've used my Spotify account, run off our laptop through and old iPod docking clock/radio.  We've had access to darn near every song ever written. Of course, the flip-side of that is that choosing what to listen to can become time-consuming and divisive, so now we're streaming stations off the net (like The Current from Minnesota Public Radio).  Sometimes you just need a curator.

Posted by at February 24, 2013 11:39 AM

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