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How Music Got Free: The End of an Industry, the Turn of the Century, and the Patient Zero of Piracy

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What happens when an entire generation commits the same crime? How Music Got Free is a riveting story of obsession, music, crime, and money, featuring visionaries and criminals, moguls and tech-savvy teenagers. It’s about the greatest pirate in history, the most powerful executive in the music business, a revolutionary invention and an illegal website four times the size of What happens when an entire generation commits the same crime? How Music Got Free is a riveting story of obsession, music, crime, and money, featuring visionaries and criminals, moguls and tech-savvy teenagers. It’s about the greatest pirate in history, the most powerful executive in the music business, a revolutionary invention and an illegal website four times the size of the iTunes Music Store.  Journalist Stephen Witt traces the secret history of digital music piracy, from the German audio engineers who invented the mp3, to a North Carolina compact-disc manufacturing plant where factory worker Dell Glover leaked nearly two thousand albums over the course of a decade, to the high-rises of midtown Manhattan where music executive Doug Morris cornered the global market on rap, and, finally, into the darkest recesses of the Internet. Through these interwoven narratives, Witt has written a thrilling book that depicts the moment in history when ordinary life became forever entwined with the world online — when, suddenly, all the music ever recorded was available for free. In the page-turning tradition of writers like Michael Lewis and Lawrence Wright, Witt’s deeply-reported first book introduces the unforgettable characters—inventors, executives, factory workers, and smugglers—who revolutionized an entire artform, and reveals for the first time the secret underworld of media pirates that transformed our digital lives. An irresistible never-before-told story of greed, cunning, genius, and deceit, How Music Got Free isn’t just a story of the music industry—it’s a must-read history of the Internet itself. Named one of Time magazine’s Best Books of 2015 So Far • Long-listed for the 2015 Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year A New York Times


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What happens when an entire generation commits the same crime? How Music Got Free is a riveting story of obsession, music, crime, and money, featuring visionaries and criminals, moguls and tech-savvy teenagers. It’s about the greatest pirate in history, the most powerful executive in the music business, a revolutionary invention and an illegal website four times the size of What happens when an entire generation commits the same crime? How Music Got Free is a riveting story of obsession, music, crime, and money, featuring visionaries and criminals, moguls and tech-savvy teenagers. It’s about the greatest pirate in history, the most powerful executive in the music business, a revolutionary invention and an illegal website four times the size of the iTunes Music Store.  Journalist Stephen Witt traces the secret history of digital music piracy, from the German audio engineers who invented the mp3, to a North Carolina compact-disc manufacturing plant where factory worker Dell Glover leaked nearly two thousand albums over the course of a decade, to the high-rises of midtown Manhattan where music executive Doug Morris cornered the global market on rap, and, finally, into the darkest recesses of the Internet. Through these interwoven narratives, Witt has written a thrilling book that depicts the moment in history when ordinary life became forever entwined with the world online — when, suddenly, all the music ever recorded was available for free. In the page-turning tradition of writers like Michael Lewis and Lawrence Wright, Witt’s deeply-reported first book introduces the unforgettable characters—inventors, executives, factory workers, and smugglers—who revolutionized an entire artform, and reveals for the first time the secret underworld of media pirates that transformed our digital lives. An irresistible never-before-told story of greed, cunning, genius, and deceit, How Music Got Free isn’t just a story of the music industry—it’s a must-read history of the Internet itself. Named one of Time magazine’s Best Books of 2015 So Far • Long-listed for the 2015 Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year A New York Times

30 review for How Music Got Free: The End of an Industry, the Turn of the Century, and the Patient Zero of Piracy

  1. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    Remember the bad old days of buying CDs? When an album cost a fortune and buying one was a big deal? How Music got free will take you back to that era, explain why it ended, and make you glad that it's gone. This is an informative, fascinating window into the dark arts of the recording industry and the collapse in record company sales that online piracy precipitated. I raced through it, eating up Witt's story of research, money, theft and technological disruption. How Music got free centers on Remember the bad old days of buying CDs? When an album cost a fortune and buying one was a big deal? How Music got free will take you back to that era, explain why it ended, and make you glad that it's gone. This is an informative, fascinating window into the dark arts of the recording industry and the collapse in record company sales that online piracy precipitated. I raced through it, eating up Witt's story of research, money, theft and technological disruption. How Music got free centers on three main stories- the struggles and eventual fortune-making victory of a team of German researchers, led by Karlheinz Brandenburg, who created the MP3 format, the success and missteps of Doug Morris, a powerful record exec making an easy ten million dollars a year, and the misadventures of Dell Glover, a CD packing plant employee who linked in with a group of fanatical online pirates and leaked hundreds of albums online. Witt makes the story of the German researchers and their MP3 struggle both engaging and illuminating. I’m not much of a tech head but the research around what the human ear can and cannot hear, and the ways this information was used to compress massive audio files into MP3s is fascinating. Equally entertaining is Morris’ story, a man whose stellar career tracks the successes of the recording industry itself. Morris was a big player, and a genius at picking acts, finding talent, and selling product. In the CD era Morris’ companies kicked ass, using methods legal and not-so-legal (paying off radio DJs, arranging fake call-in requests to stations, etc.) to push albums like Lindsay Lohan’s Speak (currently sitting at a lofty 47/100 on Metacritic) to platinum. Through Morris, Witt presents the record industry’s response to the threat of MP3s, or more accurately, their lack of a response. Like so many businesses that have been disrupted by technology (Taxi industry, I’m looking at you from the front seat of an Uber) Universal, Warners and the rest went with a classic head in the sand strategy. The recording industry ignored all the signs, portents and even direct warnings of the looming MP3 apocalypse, hoping that the private jets, 10-million-a-year salaries and complete market dominance they enjoyed would last forever. They didn't, and the industry's revenue plummeted. The third narrative follows Glover, the emperor of music pirates, an average Carolinan working in a CD pressing factory and making in a year what Morris made in a day. Glover’s very human desires for wealth and toys ($4000 rims, baby!) lead to him stealing CDs from the plant and uploading them while running a lucrative movie bootlegging operation on the side. His rise, fall and involvement in the online scene makes for a compelling, ground level look at music piracy. How Music got free is a sterling piece of journalistic work, an engrossing look at the end of one era in the music business and the beginning of another. This book gave me a lot to think about. I know piracy is a problem. But the rampant profiteering of the record industry during the good times doesn’t sit right with me. Witt details that the complete cost of producing an album in the late 90s got down to less than two US dollars, yet the record companies colluded with each other to keep the retail price of CDs in the US market at seven times that amount. I personally paid thirty New Zealand Dollars a piece for albums in the late nineties and I have trouble mustering any sympathy for an industry that so greedily fleeced its customers.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Maciek

    I first learned about this book from an article I read back in April, titled The Man Who Broke the Music Business. The article is a selection of material which would eventually appear in the published book, and gives a good image of its style and content - if you read and enjoyed it, there is a good chance that you'll enjoy the full book as well. Basically, How Music Got Free takes a complex and fascinating subject - the development of digital audio compression, and its subsequent impact on music I first learned about this book from an article I read back in April, titled The Man Who Broke the Music Business. The article is a selection of material which would eventually appear in the published book, and gives a good image of its style and content - if you read and enjoyed it, there is a good chance that you'll enjoy the full book as well. Basically, How Music Got Free takes a complex and fascinating subject - the development of digital audio compression, and its subsequent impact on music industry - and aims to present it by simultaneously narrating the same period in the lives of several different people, each of whom played a part in the process. These people are Karlheinz Brandenburg, a German audio engineer at the Fraunhofer Institute, whose research helped to create the breakthrough format of compressed audio - the MP3; the other character is Dell Glover, a worker at Polygram compact disc manufacturing plant in North Carolina by day and an album leaker by night, whose leaks fueled the rising MP3 scene; and Doug Morris, the CEO of Universal Music who tried to guide his company and adapt the business to these quickly changing times. If you have read the article linked in the beginning, or at least looked at it, you'll see that the text consists mostly of reporting a personal story of Dell Glover in a way which is purposefully engaging and suspenseful, rather than a more broad history of album leaking and its impact on music industry, which would be supported by several examples rather than one. This is true for most of the book - every aspect gets a representative character, whose individual story serves as an example to illustrate broader change and impact of the events discussed. This is both a good and a bad thing - the book is easy to read and rarely boring, but at the same time this very format severely restricts the amount of information that the author is able to present. The result is a rather sensational book written in a colloquial style, which is more of a dramatization and introduction to the issues that it discusses rather than a detailed study and analysis of the subject. Consider just the aspect presented in the linked article - the rise and development of the MP3 Scene, where individuals from all over the world former various release groups and raced to release the best content as quickly as possible. MP3 releasing groups are just a part of the larger Warez scene, where different groups compete among themselves in releasing books, movies, computer software, and pretty much everything which can be shared digitally. Each of these groups had a clearly defined structure and tasks for its members - suppliers supplied content to be released, often making personal risks to obtain advance leaks. In the case of computer software such as video games, crackers would work to remove copy protection and "crack" the game, while rippers would "rip" content from the game to reduce the size of their end file, as to make it possible to download on an average internet connection in the 1990's - motion picture sequences, music soundtrack, speech files, etc. For example: a game would be released in a playable form, but those who played the ripped version would not hear its background music or see filmed cutscenes - but the rip would be just dozens of megabytes is in size, instead of several hundred. Such rip would be often compressed into a ZIP or RAR archive and parceled into smaller files (usually the size of a standard floppy disk - 1,44 MB, which at the time was often still the only way to transport files between computers) and uploaded by couriers to a Topsite - a private web server accessible only to privileged users, from where they would eventually make their way out to the whole world. Release groups would adhere to strict standards in encoding, naming and packaging their files - often attaching a special NFO file with information regarding precisely that, with shout-outs to other groups, sometimes actively searching for new members for various positions. This is digital underworld, very different from the traditional one - groups compete among themselves for status, and not for turf, with the quality and time of their releases, not violence and murder. Profiting from these activities is not the ultimate goal, and is usually openly discouraged if not prosecuted - many groups specifically ask people who download their releases to buy the legal product and support its creators. To put it simply, to people involved it's a form of sport - a competition to see who can do it better. By focusing on a single group - RNS, aka Rabid Neurosis - the author is able to provide an insider's view of how a group operates, but misses out on an opportunity to present the large and intricate network of different music groups and the even larger and even more intricate network of the Warez scene in general. But what's more important is the lack of discussion on the development of culture of music distribution on the internet - with the increasing availability of cheap broadband internet access and free hosting sites to store ever larger files, regular internet users started to create their own music blogs. Such blogs were often topical - people would share albums from a specific genre, label or time period, often ripping and encoding them themselves and posting rare and out of print releases, doing it just for the fun of it, without the need to belong to any group. The book describes the case of Oink's Pink Palace - a private BitTorrent tracker dedicated to sharing high quality music releases, with very strict standards and a vibrant community of music lovers who contributed generously and created what Trent Reznor - the mastermind behind Nine Inch Nails and a regular user - described as "the world's greatest record store". Napster, the first program to popularize sharing MP3s is discussed, but there is little mention of its successors - programs such as Kazaa, Limewire, WinMX, Audiogalaxy or Soulseek. Inexplicably, amidst stories of people who encode music, leak it and oversee its global distribution and marketing an important figure was lost - that of the artist. How has the MP3 and the internet changed life for people who actually create music? Surprisingly, you will not find much of an answer here. Discussion of legal distribution of digital music files consists basically of mentioning iTunes in passing; there is no mention of various services which offer artists the availability to sell and market their own music and not be dependent on a record label - such as Bandcamp or Soundcloud. There is also no discussion of any kind on how music compression gave rise to a culture of free and legal music. Sites such as Jamendo or Ektoplazm gather artists who publish their music under the Creative Commons license - artists retain the rights to their work, but it allow for their music to be downloaded, distributed and used in a non-commercial way. There is no mention of the Netlabels - record labels which distribute music exclusively on the internet through digital audio formats, such as the MP3. Netlabels are almost exclusively non-commercial, and distribute their music for download free of charge under the Creative Commons license. Netlabels have their own standards of admission, and usually focus on independent musicians and specific genres - from drone Ambient to abstract Jazz. Archaic Horizon is a perfect example of a Netlabel, releasing quality music which focuses "primarily on thoughtful, melancholic and nostalgic themes". It's a record label administered by just two men from the U.S. and England, featuring music from all over the world - and none of this would be possible if not for the advent of digital audio compression. (I'd recommend listening to Orange Crush and the album "Autumn Reflections" - hazy, nostalgic downtempo with rich and beautiful sound reminiscent of Boards of Canada, which you can listen to and download for free here: http://www.archaichorizon.com/release...) In the end, as enthusiastic about the book I was in the beginning, I was ultimately disappointed in it, as it tells only a part of the larger story. I certainly don't regret reading it and I respect the author's research into the lives of the characters he presents in it, but it's not the top of my 2015 reading that I hoped it to be. Again, the author does a great job at showing the quality and content of his work - if you find the article linked in the beginning of my review interesting, then by all means seek out the book - if not, then you can safely skip it and instead listen to a favorite song of your own choice.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    Subtitled, “What happens when an entire generation commits the same crime?” this is an examination of how digital music piracy became widespread from the mid-1990’s. The author looks at three different viewpoints in depth: firstly, there is Karlheinz Brandenburg and his team, who were the driving force behind the technology of the mp3, secondly, there is Doug Morris, who, at the time when this book is set, was a middle aged businessman, head of first Warner Music Group and then MCA Music Subtitled, “What happens when an entire generation commits the same crime?” this is an examination of how digital music piracy became widespread from the mid-1990’s. The author looks at three different viewpoints in depth: firstly, there is Karlheinz Brandenburg and his team, who were the driving force behind the technology of the mp3, secondly, there is Doug Morris, who, at the time when this book is set, was a middle aged businessman, head of first Warner Music Group and then MCA Music Entertainment and, lastly, we have the amazing story of Dell Glover and Tony Dockery, two, rather lowly, employees at the PolyGram packing plant. The author freely admits that he was a member of this digital generation and he discovered that the vast majority of pirated music, at that time, came from just a few people – indeed, in some cases, he even managed to discover the very men smuggling the CD’s out of the primary organisation and making the music available online. For those of us interested in the history of popular music, and old enough to recall life when the internet was just beginning, you will recall how quickly music was changing in the 1990’s. This story begins in 1995, when an entire generation of music lovers were upgrading their vinyl collection to compact discs. The music industry was not interested in streaming and were slow to make use of the technology – and resistant towards it. There was more profit in CD’s and they could be more controlled. However, the first mp3 website went live in late 1995 and music was available digitally, for those who knew where to look. Perhaps the most fascinating part of this book involves Dell Glover and Tony Dockery – two workers at the PolyGram plant with a friendship and a fascination with the new digital frontier of the internet. With this new growing channel for pirated music, Glover downloaded the mp3 player and had a small library of songs on his hard drive for the first time. If the songs could be downloaded for free on the internet, he wondered what was the point of CD’s? An online encounter with a man known only as ‘Kali’ led to the two employees smuggling CD’s out of the plant and transmitting them to Kali’s server. By 2004, Glover had leaked nearly 2000 CD’s and it almost became a compulsion that the two friends were unable to stop. This book takes us through the beginnings of ITunes and the unexpected success of the iPod, an online community of music lovers who were sharing music without paying for it, of amateur’s who loved the music and technology, to those who simply wanted to make money… By 2004 the future of the recording industry looked bleak, with CD sales down and pirate sites like ‘Oink’ four times bigger than iTunes by 2006. This is the story of greed, of risk taking, of real economic damage to the music industry and of how the power of the internet took everyone by surprise. Most of this book relates to rap music – which I personally do not like and know nothing about – but, as a journalistic story of pirated music, it is a riveting read. For anyone with any interest in the history of music, this will be a fascinating read.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Hank Stuever

    This is another of those reviews that I would give 2.5 stars if possible, but instead of rounding up to three, I'm lowering it to two. The story here is indeed captivating -- and tragic, although it's not presented as a tragedy. I think it's smart to come at the erosion of the record industry's business model in the Internet age from three directions (the people who invented mp3 technology; the people who helped themselves to file-sharing without a nanosecond's thought about the fact that they This is another of those reviews that I would give 2.5 stars if possible, but instead of rounding up to three, I'm lowering it to two. The story here is indeed captivating -- and tragic, although it's not presented as a tragedy. I think it's smart to come at the erosion of the record industry's business model in the Internet age from three directions (the people who invented mp3 technology; the people who helped themselves to file-sharing without a nanosecond's thought about the fact that they were stealing; and the stalwart record executive who was helpless to stop it). There's a strong narrative here and good reporting to back it up. I learned a lot. But the writing, though. Only when you get to the acknowledgments does it become clear, when Stephen Witt brags that he's never been published before. It shows. You can sense of lot of grunting and straining. There are many sentences here that read straight out of someone's "Magazine Feature Writing 101" course: description for description's sake, clunky expositions, transitions, overstatement. Someone can't just have a name and a background. Instead, the author writes: "There was this hard-ass attorney general in New York by the name of Eliot Spitzer..." (p. 196); "In June 1999, an 18-year-old Northeastern University dropout by the name of Shawn Fanning ..." (p. 114). The overwritten jacket copy sort of warns you that you're going to hear the author's spurs clanking as he walks you through this tale ("in the tradition of writers like Michael Lewis and Lawrence Wright" -- um, no), but I still found it distracting and in need of one more good, tight edit. The voice was all over the place. It took me too long to read this book, which should have been a breeze. Anyhow, back to content, instead of form: I kept waiting for a moral examination in this book that never came. The author speaks of his own vast collection of pirated music and he talks at length to the thief at the CD pressing plant who stole more music than anyone, who never has an explanation for why he had to do it. Nor does the author really talk about why he and an entire generation felt entitled to have a stolen product. This is a book about how everyone helped themselves to free music online. Everyone except those of us who didn't; those of us who, according to Witt, were over 30; we employed the same central ethic that keeps us from walking out of a 7-Eleven with candy bars we haven't paid for. Why? What changed in our philosophical/ethical core? Witt does provide some stray thoughts about how the cloud is the final end to this personal notion of "owning" a "music collection," but the book really lacks a final declarative point of view on what really happened on a moral or psychological or cultural plane. What happened to the music industry is really no different than what's happening to everything else in medialand. I bought "How Music Got Free" at Book Soup in Los Angeles, one of my favorite independent bookstores. It took Stephen Witt five years to write it. It cost me $27.95 plus tax to buy it and read it. In a karmic sense, though, I should have stolen it or found a free copy of it online.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Maciej Nowicki

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. How Music Got Free is a look at basically mp3, file-sharing, online piracy and what that did to the music industry between the mid-nineties to the mid-2000s. It is also a story of obsession, music, crime and money. It’s also a great picture of how we and our companies change. If you have ever looked at your music library on your PC or an mp3 player and asked yourself a question how all these recordings got here, here is a book which helps you to understand the whole process. Stephen Witt, the How Music Got Free is a look at basically mp3, file-sharing, online piracy and what that did to the music industry between the mid-nineties to the mid-2000s. It is also a story of obsession, music, crime and money. It’s also a great picture of how we and our companies change. If you have ever looked at your music library on your PC or an mp3 player and asked yourself a question how all these recordings got here, here is a book which helps you to understand the whole process. Stephen Witt, the author of How Music Got Free, once stated the same question I began to investigate this. Surprisingly, he discovered that all the files that he had on his PC could be traced back to just three people. Anyway, one of the men was named Karlheinz Brandenburg a brilliant German inventor who had spent his life investigating the properties of the human ear and how to delete frequencies that were invisible to it. He had spent decades investigating in human anatomy and what the ear could hear. So, when we hear noise what’s actually happening is it like vibrations in the air are coming and hitting our eardrum that’s transferred through something called the bony labyrinth to a small little organ inside your skull and your inner ear. It is called the cochlear which shaped like a snail’s shell. Inside the cochlear, there are these little hairs that vibrate and if you get enough for them vibrating they transfer a neuron in the brain. Karlheinz Brandenburg during his studies, suddenly, came up with something that we now call the mp3 encoder which had the ability to take the information on a compact disc and shrink it by about 90% with very little loss in audio quality and, eventually, became the major medium for online piracy . Unfortunately, he was totally unable to monetise this invention and in desperation in 1995 he posted it for free public download to his website. Within a couple years the Pirates got a hold of it and he ended up making hundreds of millions of dollars from intellectual property. The second person was Doug Morris, a powerful music executive at Warner Music Group in the mid-90s. He started to realise that the future of pop music was really bad so he started working with big names, major rappers such as Tupac Shakur, Dr Dre, Snoop Dogg. It seems that their audience has found the concept of online piracy resonating and boosted the market. The third person, Dell Glover, was the most fascinating one and the core story of this book. He was a compact disc manufacturing facility worker at the Kings Mountain CD pressing plant in North Carolina. As he worked at the packaging line and all of this music was literally at his fingertips he figured out how to sneak out all unpublished discs. He contacted similar leakers and joined online pirate groups. There are some estimations that throughout his activity, over the course of seven years, he might smuggle approximately 2,000 discs out of the plant and ripped them to mp3. Within hours this music would be found in peer-to-peer servers like Kazaa, Napster or LimeWire torrents. Anyway, Dell’s pirate group, Rabid Neurosis (RNS), become the premier music piracy group in the world and they by recruiting music journalists, radio DJs and people who worked in music stores, but Dell was their key inside man. For example, he leaked Nickelback, The Eminem Show, Jay-z, Kanye West, U2 and many others. Because the music industry was losing tons of money they did an analysis which showed that the only way to stop piracy is to make it costly and expensive by throwing the pirates in jail and that is the approach that they took. So next part of the book discusses a campaign that was launched by the record companies to crack down... (if you like to read my full review please visit my blog https://leadersarereaders.blog/how-mu...)

  6. 5 out of 5

    thefourthvine

    Lately, I've been having the novel experience of reading about history I remember. I remember the events of this book -- I remember my own perspective, as a very minor I-hate-the-music-industry downloader, of basically everything that happens in this book after the invention of the mp3. This is a fascinating parallax view of history, and I absolutely recommend this for anyone who remembers the heyday of music piracy. I recommend it for people who don't remember that, too, if they're interested Lately, I've been having the novel experience of reading about history I remember. I remember the events of this book -- I remember my own perspective, as a very minor I-hate-the-music-industry downloader, of basically everything that happens in this book after the invention of the mp3. This is a fascinating parallax view of history, and I absolutely recommend this for anyone who remembers the heyday of music piracy. I recommend it for people who don't remember that, too, if they're interested in either how we ended up with the music industry the way it is, or massive, total failures to adapt. This book covers both those topics in ample, fascinating detail, and I learned a lot of things I had absolutely no clue about at when they were happening. A small sample of the things I learned from this book: 1. The NHL was at the forefront of the mp3 revolution. Without hockey, we might not be using mp3s today. 2. I should not have disliked Hilary Rosen as much as I did in 2000; she was the dove arguing behind the scenes for making peace with electronic music and pirates. 3. Most pirated music files can be traced back to one of a limited number of groups of rippers; my image of the early days of piracy, which was random people uploading their music collections and downloading other people's, was almost totally incorrect. 4. Metallica's "Until It Sleeps" was the first "officially" pirated song, which seems especially just considering their hysterical opposition to piracy years later. The book is also -- well, somewhat quirky. Normally non-fiction lives or dies on its narrative voice, and to be honest, Witt doesn't have much of one. Instead, he has weird moments of personal bias. These can be funny, like his truly massive hateboner for Linkin Park, which was so extreme that in reaction I found myself nostalgically wanting to listen to them for the first time since I lived down the street from -- this is true -- a Linkin Park cover garage band made up of teenagers who were just learning to play their instruments. (Three years of that, and yet I hate Linkin Park less than Witt.) But his bias is also unfortunately visible when it comes to describing the life of Dell Glover, the main CD leaker -- like, Witt at one point says Glover, who is black, was born after the era of discrimination. He is, uh, definitely wrong about that, since babies born tomorrow will still be born in the era of discrimination. In general, Witt has a very easy time relating to people who are pretty much like him, and flounders a lot when he's asked to empathize with or understand people who aren't. And his style is clear but not exactly exciting. However, the story he's telling -- that is exciting. It's interesting watching an entire industry engage in what might best be termed malignant denial. It's interesting learning who got rich off the piracy era and who didn't. It's interesting finding out what happens when pirates grow up. Basically, it's interesting to learn more about how music got free.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    As a middle school teacher I often find myself obsessing about the era when I was a middle schooler. To live this horror and nostalgia over and over again, I often seek out nonfiction that covers the years 1999-2002/3 ish. I demolished this book in two days, and I would have finished it sooner had I not stopped to coo at my new nephew for a few hours. The digital music revolution is the story of my middle school years ... my friends and I quickly went from mix tapes to Napster, we were pretty As a middle school teacher I often find myself obsessing about the era when I was a middle schooler. To live this horror and nostalgia over and over again, I often seek out nonfiction that covers the years 1999-2002/3 ish. I demolished this book in two days, and I would have finished it sooner had I not stopped to coo at my new nephew for a few hours. The digital music revolution is the story of my middle school years ... my friends and I quickly went from mix tapes to Napster, we were pretty sure what we were doing wasn't exactly kosher, but hey, that's what early adolescence is for anyway ... and this book is the story of how digital music became intertwined with illegal file-sharing and brought a once-thriving record industry to its knees. Stephen Witt has a knack for reporting rigorously and with lush factual detail, bringing new stories to light, and a knack for wordplay, all of which I found missing from my other big nonfiction read this summer, John Krakauer's Missoula. His reporting goes from the megalomaniacs of the record industry to a "black redneck" in rural North Carolina to working-class blokes in England and academics in Germany. All of these characters are compelling in their own ways, and share surprising personality traits in common. At the end of the day, what the record executive and the pirate stealing millions of dollars from him have in common is a blinding dedication to their cause and a guiding populist vision, even though one is making millions of dollars a year and the other is dependent on overtime shifts to pay off credit card debt. I can't begin to explain how much I loved this book, and I hope it's not just me who finds that just hearing artist names like Limp Bizkit, Sixpence None the Richer, and Juvenile scattered throughout this book is enough to bring me back to those good ol' days.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ben Babcock

    How Music Got Free: The End of an Industry, the Turn of the Century, and the Patient Zero of Piracy was published in 2015, and I was a little worried that being three years old would already render it obsolete. Fortunately, I was wrong. Stephen Witt’s explanation of the rise of mp3 and the transition from CDs to digital stores to streaming, along with the corresponding piracy, is clear and detailed and incredibly fascinating. This is the type of non-fiction I like: full of facts and figures, but How Music Got Free: The End of an Industry, the Turn of the Century, and the Patient Zero of Piracy was published in 2015, and I was a little worried that being three years old would already render it obsolete. Fortunately, I was wrong. Stephen Witt’s explanation of the rise of mp3 and the transition from CDs to digital stores to streaming, along with the corresponding piracy, is clear and detailed and incredibly fascinating. This is the type of non-fiction I like: full of facts and figures, but organized in such a way that it tells a compelling story while you’re reading. Witt starts off in the late eighties and early nineties. He essentially tells two parallel tales: Karlheinz Brandenburg’s team at Fraunhofer invents and perfects the mp3, while Dell Glover works at a CD printing plant in North Carolina, where he becomes the leading source of pirated music. Along the way, we also spend time with Doug Morris, a prominent record executive, and various pirate groups and the law enforcement officers trying to shut them down. That might sound scattered, but Witt manages to bring everything together into a coherent and unified look a the the past thirty years of the music industry. I’m a little younger than Witt. His introduction places him in college in 1997, cramming a 2 GB hard drive full of pirated tunes. I turned 8 in 1997, and I wasn’t much into music at that point. In fact, I was a very late bloomer when it came to forming personal musical tastes and beginning to collect my own music—I think I was well into high school, by which time the iTunes Store was well established. Although I did buy or receive many CDs (mostly movie soundtracks and classical stuff) around that age, my first real experience with collecting music was already digital. I never much got into pirating—I missed that golden age, coming in just after Napster when everything had fragmented and you had to try your luck with torrents and Kazaa or Limewire. I had no trouble getting iTunes Store gift cards for my birthday or Christmas and spending those on $0.99 tracks and $9.99 albums; I chafed at the DRM, for sure, and celebrated when Apple did away with it. Since then, I’ve moved on to another storefront, 7digital, mostly because I try to avoid using iTunes itself these days. I haven’t subscribed to any streaming services—I like to own my music, even if it does exist as lossy bits on a hard drive. I love how Witt balances the social history with a technical explanation of the workings of the mp3 format. As a mathematician, I’m fascinated by the information-theoretical underpinnings of the mp3. Witt goes into a lot of detail regarding the experiments that Brandenburg’s team did to tailor the mp3’s compression algorithm to best store the components of audio that human ears can detect. In particular, we learn a lot about the struggle to capture in the best fidelity the “lone speaker”. Alongside this technical overview comes the chronicle of the mp3 repeatedly facing rejection from MPEG as a new standard. I never knew that it basically lost out to mp2 as the format of choice—at least until some fateful twists and turns made it into the number one format for streaming pirated music, and then … well, the rest is history and the mp3 is here to stay. By the same token, Witt provides more detail about the history of music piracy than I ever knew. Obviously early pirated music had to come from CDs, but I didn’t know they were being smuggled so brazenly out of the manufacturing plants. And I didn’t know the nature of the underground community, the way there were l33t groups who took pride in orchestrating and coordinating a release of a pirated album ahead of its actual release date. I really enjoy learning about these kinds of subcultures that existed in the earlier eras of the Internet but have now morphed or disappeared. The Internet has moved so fast in the past ten years that it’s easy, especially for us young’uns, to forget there have been entire movements that sprang up and died off prior to that time. I also like how we have a very nuanced portrait of the music industry. It’s easy, in my opinion, to be sympathetic to pirates and artists both, and to have a bit of a one-dimensional view of the music executives. Yet Witt emphasizes how, for better or worse, there was a symbiotic ecosystem happening among artists, executives, and consumers. And as the technology changed, of course the industry changed—but why it changed the way it did is so incredibly fascinating. And then there’s Dell Glover. He grows and matures over the decade he pirates music. He starts as a risk-taking, cool car–driving bootlegger and turns into a more responsible father who decides he no longer wants the heat associated with pirating. It’s interesting to see Witt recount the details of Glover’s involvement in what was quite literally this international operation to leak new releases. There are a few aspects of How Music Got Free I didn’t like, mostly to do with Witt’s writing. At times, some of the analogies he uses felt dated or awkward or just in bad taste, like when he compares something to an alcoholic who can’t avoid the bottle or something along those lines (it has been over a week since I finished the book, so my memory has already blurred). I just remember thinking, “Um, that wasn’t necessary, where is your editor, young man?” At other points, Witt either introduces or fails to introduce concepts, technologies, parts of history, etc., that don’t need or definitely need, respectively, that introduction. Just some odd editing choices overall. None of that dampens my enthusiasm for this book, though. It’s a lovely little history of a particular part of the music industry, the era that was the jump from physical to digital media, and some of the internecine conflicts among artists and executives and fans and audience alike. How Music Got Free lives up to the expectations set by its bombastic title, and I learned a great deal from this relatively short non-fiction read!

  9. 5 out of 5

    J.

    Fascinating read for anyone who’s been a music enthusiast for any time at all, or spent more than a few bucks at Tower or Virgin over the years. Stephen Witt’s book attempts to mesh the inside-the-biz story with the developments afforded by an evolving technological curve-- and how the human factor contributes or throws it all off. First up is how music got ABBREVIATED. Researchers around the world, emboldened with the understanding that now that a full, luxurious musical waveform could be Fascinating read for anyone who’s been a music enthusiast for any time at all, or spent more than a few bucks at Tower or Virgin over the years. Stephen Witt’s book attempts to mesh the inside-the-biz story with the developments afforded by an evolving technological curve-- and how the human factor contributes or throws it all off. First up is how music got ABBREVIATED. Researchers around the world, emboldened with the understanding that now that a full, luxurious musical waveform could be quantified, coded, expressed by numbers, set about finding realworld applications for this conversion. Once something natural can be ‘equated’ to numerical equations, it is vulnerable to processing along algorithmic lines. Which is to say that your full twenty minute live take of ‘Stairway To Heaven’ or ‘Close To The Edge’ –popular pre-digital tracks that were too long for mixtapes, radioplay, or easy copying to a short, standard cassette-- could be subject to something much, much more powerful than simple editorial measures. It wouldn't reduce the playing time-- but it would reduce the storage space necessary to house the music itself. What the researchers would find was much more than seamless fade-outs, dissolves, or clever cut & paste. Under the microscope of big science, music and human hearing have characteristics that make them accessible to manipulation (once the music end is rendered as raw data, that is). First, above or below the tonal range of the human voice— to which we have a pre-conditioned sensitivity—the contents of a musical signal need not be digitized at such a meticulous rate. So the highs like cymbal or fret clicks, and the lows like double-bass or kettle drum-- do not need such a high bit-rate to render them legible to the largely vocals-centered hearing of humans. And therefore, “that meant that you could assign fewer bits to the extreme ends of the spectrum”. There were further places where the researchers found they could save bits. Tones in the same moment of the music that were close in pitch tended to either cancel out or override each other in the ears of the beholder, so that meant less individual bit use. Or in the author’s words “lower tones overrode higher ones, so if you were digitizing music with overlapping instrumentation—say a violin and a cello at the same time—you could assign fewer bits to the violin”. Additionally, before or after a strong beat, the human auditory system routinely cancelled or de-emphasized the very next, adjacent sound, possibly as a safety mechanism. The science showed you could therefore “assign fewer bits to the first few milliseconds following the beat.” As an added enticement to the digital algorithmists, old research from MIT in the fifties had shown that what saves bits is pattern recognition, something in the material that repeats, and something at which high powered computers excelled; with music, there are all sorts of patterns, repeating in layered, synched-up beauty, from the counterpoint of Bach to the formulaic repeats of Taylor Swift: “.. which meant that rather than assigning bits to the pattern every time it occurred, you just had to do it once, then refer back to those bits as needed. And from the perspective of information theory, that was all a violin solo was: a vibrating string, cutting predictable, repetitive patterns of sound in the air.” For the scientists, this was all business as usual, extrapolating insights from theoretical research into practical real-world use. Their new codes could render information smaller, more portable and more modular, just overall less-encumbered. And the gear to process “less” and reproduce it --could inhabit less space, volume, weight, and go places it could never go before. For the music businessmen, the advances would seem to lead to obvious point-of-sale gains, as it was immediately obvious that “less” could more easily be produced and delivered to market --for less. What science and business didn’t exactly count on, as author Witt describes carefully, is that this portable, modular, lightweight unit of sound-- the Mp3 soundfile, it would be called – could also be uploaded to the newly emerged Internet. And in the new parlance of the practice, shared, peer-to-peer. Parents around the world in developed countries were now—mid 90s—sending their clever offspring away to colleges with a new aid to study and research, a new desktop computer. Universities competed with each other in offering high-bandwidth internet connections on campus, and eventually in the dormitories. Somewhat of a surprise to that well intentioned effort was the fact that the newly geared up students were learning how to pull music, motion pictures, software, computer games and all sorts of material from the net. And they uploaded what they had to offer, in the spirit of giving to receive. Transforming their new, study-&-research-aid computers into multifunctional electronic recreation centers. And with stolen (shared) software and media, an endless supply of media files. For this reader, it is a nearly classical greek-tragic sort of fated outcome, that the teenager and college student of the era where popular culture (media) got adulterated, foreshortened and made into powdered Instant Tuneage – went on to destroy the very industry that did the adulterating, and destroy it from the ground up. The file-sharers compiled libraries, collections that the author compares to the scale and scope of the Smithsonian’s. The industry went into the red, the Cd format and the entire popular music Album concept were destroyed, the large manufacturing and distribution chains were shut down. The old, highly profitable record-biz game was really over. Tower, Borders and Virgin went from Megastore to invisible. For me the conclusion that music or the business of music would now be mostly free, limited to giveaway tracks and promotional downloads that only support live acts or touring ones (for access to which they charge at the door in cold, reliable cash), doesn’t tell the whole story. I think the history here lends itself to the conclusion—not forwarded by the biz-and-growth-oriented author—that in the future the best of all eras of music can now be preserved under ‘conservation’ terms. Protecting an enormous collection of up-till-now works that need to be carefully guarded & transcribed—into whatever the next platform requires, without damage or abbreviation. The downside of mass digitization is real, the fact is that in the case of the Mp3, the original material is reduced by a factor of 12 to 1. Twelve parts removed to one remaining, disguised by the best psycho-acoustic masking the late 8o’s had to offer. But the upside is that high resolution digitizing is not just feasible but happening everyday, though certainly not for most dumbed-down ‘consumer’ product. Ultra high-rez is limited to satellite mapping and the like, but very high-rez is available for music & films now. That high resolution files can be created and moved losslessly into the future is a great thing, and something we should try to have available for normal people, not just scientists, museums or corporate interests. “How Music Got Free” doesn’t dwell unnecessarily, or delve any deeper than it needs to do to get the story across. In fact, the anecdotal, character-driven frame that Witt uses helps the story fly by, to its current, non-conclusive status today. Recommended.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Karl Geiger

    “Do you realize what you’ve done? You’ve killed the music industry.” Witt's investigative journalism reports how technology and society shifted beneath the music industry's feet, a trend continuing today as Big Music's hunt for revenue moves to streaming and live performances. The 30-year tale interleaves music moguls and companies (Doug Morris, Jimmy Iovine, Universal, others), the most popular and profitable acts of the last 20 years (Dr. Dre, Ice Tea, Lil Wayne, Kanye West, and many, many “Do you realize what you’ve done? You’ve killed the music industry.” Witt's investigative journalism reports how technology and society shifted beneath the music industry's feet, a trend continuing today as Big Music's hunt for revenue moves to streaming and live performances. The 30-year tale interleaves music moguls and companies (Doug Morris, Jimmy Iovine, Universal, others), the most popular and profitable acts of the last 20 years (Dr. Dre, Ice Tea, Lil Wayne, Kanye West, and many, many others), the technologists (Karlheinz Brandenburg, Bernhard Grill, Harald Popp, et al) at Germany's Fraunhofer Institute who spent a decade perfecting a "good enough" psychoacoustic music compression format (MP3), and the file-sharing underground ("The Scene", "Oink's Pink Palace", others). The whirlwind sucks in tech giants and midgets such as Steve Jobs/Apple, Microsoft, Sony, Philips, Shawn Fanning/Napster as well as the FBI, the German government, the RIAA, and even the NHL. In the beginning, it wasn't clear whether Fraunhofer's MP3 would succeed as a technology at all. MP3 won the late 1990s "MPEG format wars" in part by relying on the ripper/file sharing underground, and the underground in turn relied heavily on one person, Benny Glover, a key employee at a Polygram/Universal's North Carolina CD pressing plant. Glover smuggled music discs weeks before commercial release -- a point of pride was to release the MP3 tracks weeks before the CD hit store shelves. Smugglers fed rippers, rippers fed communities, communities made markets, and iPods took those markets' revenue from Big Music. This book's cautionary tale applies directly to those in entertainment and entertainment technology: music, film/television, gaming, publishing. The music industry's strategic blindness, collusion, and adversarial relationships with their customers and their governments helped destroy billions in value: when Big Music insisted RIAA head Hilary Rosen persecute consumers, she refused and resigned. Clearly, the moguls would not and could not get the message. Similar Schumpeterian "creative destruction" is eating alive Hollywood's and the cable television companies' business models in 2015. Those in the business of supplying a fancy bitstream to consumers at a rent need to be looking over their shoulders and thinking harder about how to satisfy that demand in a world glutted with art and technology, where downward pressure on the entertainment dollar is constant, and where many would rather just Facebook, YouTube, or Vevo for free than watch pay TV or buy music and books. Last: never, ever underestimate the power of the disaffected computer-savvy, especially those with fast Internet connections, multi-terabyte storage systems, and more time on their hands than money in their pockets.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Steven

    A fascinating exploration into how the way we consume music was revolutionised by the age of the internet. While skillfully avoiding patronising his readers, Witt guides us through the origins of the mp3, the early internet piracy warez scene, the introduction of peer-to-peer technology, and the ups and downs of both the Record Industry and the lives of those responsible for stealing, ripping, uploading, and sharing its products for free. As a member of "Generation Pirate", it was almost like an A fascinating exploration into how the way we consume music was revolutionised by the age of the internet. While skillfully avoiding patronising his readers, Witt guides us through the origins of the mp3, the early internet piracy warez scene, the introduction of peer-to-peer technology, and the ups and downs of both the Record Industry and the lives of those responsible for stealing, ripping, uploading, and sharing its products for free. As a member of "Generation Pirate", it was almost like an insightful walk down memory lane at times, the "brands" in question - Napster, Kazaa, eDonkey, LimeWire, Bearshare, BitTorrent, Oink, Pirate Bay - reading like a list of forgotten ex-girlfriends (some of whom are more fondly remembered than others...) "How Music Got Free" is an intelligently written and often thrilling investigation into the hidden world that allowed an entire generation to engage in one of the world's most pervasive and "normalised" illegal activities. (Disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book in exchange for a fair review)

  12. 4 out of 5

    Joe M

    A fascinating story and highly recommended for anyone who loves music, technology, or has loaded their iPod up with their favorite songs and albums through iTunes, Napster, or other, more questionable sources the last 15 years. For a first-time author, Stephen Witt is an exceptional storyteller and he thrillingly alternates between multiple narratives, moving chronologically from the early MPEG format wars, the emergence of underground Scene Topsites, to the widespread use of BitTorrent as a A fascinating story and highly recommended for anyone who loves music, technology, or has loaded their iPod up with their favorite songs and albums through iTunes, Napster, or other, more questionable sources the last 15 years. For a first-time author, Stephen Witt is an exceptional storyteller and he thrillingly alternates between multiple narratives, moving chronologically from the early MPEG format wars, the emergence of underground Scene Topsites, to the widespread use of BitTorrent as a means to acquire a massive (and morally ambiguous) digital music library. The background on Doug Morris and Universal Music is especially interesting, and an added bonus is Witt's mico-history of Death Row and Cash Money Records, and the role 90-2000's-era hip-hop played fueling leaks and the pre-release frenzy. No technology story is complete without Steve Jobs stirring the pot, and it was fascinating to see the evolution of the iPod coupled with Jobs's race to introduce iTunes as a means to counteract piracy and "cleanse the world of the sin." While Shawn Fanning and the development of Napster is certainly a huge milestone and duly covered here, in many ways that story has been exhausted, so it was great to see at least three full chapters dedicated instead to Alan Ellis and the rise and fall of the once mighty Oink's Pink Palace. Ellis and the OPP community were game changers in the way that music was ripped, distributed, and archived, and Witt provides a captivating character study, finally bringing a little known, but crucial story into the light. If there is a 'scene-stealer' in this book(sorry, couldn't resist!) without a doubt it's Dell Glover, a savvy disk-manufacturing plant employee, who rose through the ranks of the scene group "RNS" in the mid-2000's and leaked literally thousands of the biggest releases of the last decade, essentially revolutionizing the way music is distributed, and dismantling the old order and business model of the music industry. Taken as a whole, the stories of How Music Got Free are absolutely mind-boggling and a must-read for music fans.

  13. 5 out of 5

    AlcoholBooksCinema

    Unless the book demands a lot of concentration, I prefer reading a book while listening to music. That has always been the scenario because when I was a kid, grandmother kept the radio on, all day along, sometimes even at night(she still does that, thanks to the earplugs). I got used to being attentive to the radio so much I would not study unless the radio crackled in the background. Since this book deals with music, I read it while listening to music. Make no mistake: Don't judge the book Unless the book demands a lot of concentration, I prefer reading a book while listening to music. That has always been the scenario because when I was a kid, grandmother kept the radio on, all day along, sometimes even at night(she still does that, thanks to the earplugs). I got used to being attentive to the radio so much I would not study unless the radio crackled in the background. Since this book deals with music, I read it while listening to music. Make no mistake: Don't judge the book because I read it while listening to music. This is a good book and the writer has done a good job. This book is an approach to humanity in a very musical way because there are very few people who are living the dream and look cool doing it, musicians are one of those. Piracy is a bit like terrorism to the music industry and Stephen Richard has done a modest observation to compare natural 'purity' with the corrupt and brutality of man-made technology. Now, considering the book is related to music, here's something for fun. This kick-ass song started playing when I was close to the ending https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XnBbj.... And this beautiful song(one of my favorites) started playing when I logged into Goodreads to rate the book https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lBoRN...

  14. 5 out of 5

    Paras Kapadia

    When I grew up, I was a part of this. I remember the 1st time I installed Winamp and played a .mp3 song on my computer. When Limewire and Kazaa were all we spoke about and then we started seeing bootlegged CDs and DVDs peddled on the streets of CST. The way we consumed music changed throughout our childhood. To learn about the people who brought about this revolution of sorts was absolutely fascinating. My favorite is how .mp3 went mainstream. In fact, I'm surprised these stories haven't received When I grew up, I was a part of this. I remember the 1st time I installed Winamp and played a .mp3 song on my computer. When Limewire and Kazaa were all we spoke about and then we started seeing bootlegged CDs and DVDs peddled on the streets of CST. The way we consumed music changed throughout our childhood. To learn about the people who brought about this revolution of sorts was absolutely fascinating. My favorite is how .mp3 went mainstream. In fact, I'm surprised these stories haven't received their due in today's pop culture. If you were a 90's kid meddling with a computer, you want to read this book!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Avery

    Now this is how you write a damn book!! Within the first three chapters, I have thrilled in the unexpected drama of a team of unfunny German engineers writing an algorithm, started to put puzzle pieces together about how piracy began, and been convinced to care about the feelings of a wealthy record company executive who signed Snoop Dogg. I am in awe of the author's writing abilities.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Leftbanker

    This was a very entertaining history of the digital revolution and the birth of internet piracy. I lived through all of this and am still waiting for the end of the story. While I wait I have a few questions for everyone. I think that the first bit of music I paid for was an 8 track cassette (the preferred format among white trash). Then I stepped backward into vinyl for a few years with the occasional cassette tape. Then came Compact Discs, a format that I always thought was stupid even though I This was a very entertaining history of the digital revolution and the birth of internet piracy. I lived through all of this and am still waiting for the end of the story. While I wait I have a few questions for everyone. I think that the first bit of music I paid for was an 8 track cassette (the preferred format among white trash). Then I stepped backward into vinyl for a few years with the occasional cassette tape. Then came Compact Discs, a format that I always thought was stupid even though I knew almost nothing of the technology involved in the creation of this medium. Then came iTunes and the digital revolution. My question is this: How many times do I have to buy the same recording? Have record companies ever offered a buy-back program in which they gave you credit on a trade-in for your obsolete technology? The author mentions how the music industry conspired to keep prices for CDs artificially high so here is another question: Why are consumers expected to be the only ones to play by the rules? If record labels can bully us by putting downloaders in jail why can't a few of their executives go to prison for conspiring to create monopolies? Here is another question: If the movie and record companies want more money why don’t they press the internet providers? Consumers have always got the sharp, short end of the stick. Now I am expected to pay a fortune for internet access while paying for everything that comes through that connection? If it weren’t for downloading an entire neighborhood could share a single internet connection and save a fortune. So what does the industry want from us at the bottom? Obviously they want to bleed us to death. OK, I got it now.

  17. 5 out of 5

    John

    What a good book for anyone who went through the evolution of music on LP, cassette and CD to the mp3 format, and through the evolution of the Internet. There is no way I could have predicted for myself that at some point I would never be buying music on a CD again and that I would get all my music from the Internet with a music service. This was a fascinating book all the way through. For those of us who didn’t know the details of how the mp3 format and many others came about, it was great. The What a good book for anyone who went through the evolution of music on LP, cassette and CD to the mp3 format, and through the evolution of the Internet. There is no way I could have predicted for myself that at some point I would never be buying music on a CD again and that I would get all my music from the Internet with a music service. This was a fascinating book all the way through. For those of us who didn’t know the details of how the mp3 format and many others came about, it was great. The other part of the book, about music and video pirating, was equally interesting. I was never comfortable with using Napster, but millions of ‘kids’ were when it first came out in 1998. Both of them, mp3’s and Napster, just about killed the music industry. Stephen Witt takes us inside of the music pirating “business” in detail; the history, the players, and in the end, the law enforcement part. It’s interesting that this song came to me in an eMail from Spotify right after finishing this book. It might not appeal to anyone other than a person who knows this standard bluegrass song, but, it’s a parody of the music business as discussed in this book. Here’s the song on YouTube, and the irony hit me later on that I'm pointing to a free link for the song, where Tim O'Brien probably gets nothing for people playing his own song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZVjNc...

  18. 5 out of 5

    Lee G

    This book really blew my mind. The fact that regular people with dedication and passion (the technology innovators and online pirate community) totally changed the world and crippled an entire industry. It also raised really interesting questions about the future of intellectual property and copyright law in the wake of an entire generation that decided those laws were not worth keeping when it came to downloading music illegally. This is about a seismic shift in our society and it reads like a This book really blew my mind. The fact that regular people with dedication and passion (the technology innovators and online pirate community) totally changed the world and crippled an entire industry. It also raised really interesting questions about the future of intellectual property and copyright law in the wake of an entire generation that decided those laws were not worth keeping when it came to downloading music illegally. This is about a seismic shift in our society and it reads like a mystery novel, gripping you with fascinating characters and intricate plot development. I really can't recommend it highly enough to anyone interested in the history and people behind how music became free.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Byron

    A better book than John Seabrook's the Song Machine, or whatever it's called, which i also recently read, this tells the story of how Internets piracy fucked the music industry in much greater detail than anything else I've ever read. It starts with the invention of the mp3, beginning way back in the mid '80s (surprisingly, they already had the idea for Spotify back then), and continues up through the explosion of piracy on college campuses in the late '90s (as KRS-One would say, I was there), A better book than John Seabrook's the Song Machine, or whatever it's called, which i also recently read, this tells the story of how Internets piracy fucked the music industry in much greater detail than anything else I've ever read. It starts with the invention of the mp3, beginning way back in the mid '80s (surprisingly, they already had the idea for Spotify back then), and continues up through the explosion of piracy on college campuses in the late '90s (as KRS-One would say, I was there), and when the bottom fell out of the major labels in the '00s. The main draw is the story of the "patient zero" of Internets piracy, some of which was excerpted in the New Yorker, but there's a lot of other shit I didn't know and found fascinating.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Owen

    Fantastic book about the history of the MP3 – I was enthralled by this story and enjoyed it very much, a lot of things I had no idea about, particularly the amount of engineering that goes into an audio storage format. Amazing.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kara Miller

    If you like music you’d probably like it. If you’re required to read it for a class you hate; you’ll hate it.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Pat

    How Music Got Free by Stephen Witt chronicles the fall of the traditional model of the music industry in the digital age. The book's title is deliberately ambiguous as it suggests that music lost its value over the last few decades, but also broke free of the shackles of the record companies as music fans could now access any music they wanted at the touch of a button & for no monetary outlay. The book's subtitle ("What happens when an entire generation commits the same crime?") is also How Music Got Free by Stephen Witt chronicles the fall of the traditional model of the music industry in the digital age. The book's title is deliberately ambiguous as it suggests that music lost its value over the last few decades, but also broke free of the shackles of the record companies as music fans could now access any music they wanted at the touch of a button & for no monetary outlay. The book's subtitle ("What happens when an entire generation commits the same crime?") is also ambiguous as it highlights the criminal aspect of illegal music downloading while also suggesting it's okay because everybody's doing it. Unlike most authors of books about the music industry, Witt is not a music journalist. He is, in fact, a music fan & a member of the generation brought up on pirating music from the internet, one who admits that he filled hard drives with hundreds of thousands of illegally downloaded music files. Witt also has degrees in mathematics and, later, journalism. As a result, How Music Got Free is a well-researched & well-told account of the rise of digital media & the decline of the record industry that tells the story from three equally interesting sides. One strand focuses on the development of mp3 technology in Germany & Witt makes this strand interesting by showing how the mp3 eventually succeeded amidst completion from other methods of compressing sound files. As he does throughout, Witt focuses on the important players in each section & tells the story through their failures & successes. Witt also looks at early digital music piracy by telling the story of a couple of employees at the North Carolina packaging plant of the PolyGram record company. Though polar opposites of the mp3 developers in Germany, the American duo show an equal ability to merge their interest in & knowledge of computers & the Internet with an eye for business to build a profitable business bootlegging DVDs & CDs to sell on the black market in their locality. Witt then traces how these guys were just one of the many technologically self-taught music fans whose work would eventually lead to sites like Napster & The Pirate Bay. The third strand of Witt's look at the music industry focuses on the record companies, particularity through the eyes of one of its most powerful figures, Doug Morris, who presided over a number of the world's biggest record companies prior to the digital era. As he had with the mp3 developers & the digital pirates, Witt tells Morris' story with a lot of respect for his achievements & he makes the reader identify with him. Nevertheless, Witt is more critical of Morris than the others, particularly his lack of willingness to embrace the Internet & mp3 technology. Witt's disdain for Morris & his favouring of the scientists & the music pirates is probably not surprising given the author's own history as a digital music pirate, though it also presents a more biased argument that is more critical of the record industry than the music pirates. How Music Got Free is an informed & entertaining account of how the music industry moved from being a successful business that created wealthy rock stars by selling physical product to music fans into a failing industry that failed to adapt to the arrival of the internet & the mp3. And, like the perception of digital music, his account comes across as cold & unemotional, lacking the empathy of the music fan who prefers vinyl over mp3 files.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Anshul Soni

    I am going to keep the review quite simple without much spoilers for the reader but would still talk about the general outline. I did like the book very much and it was on a subject which has impacted everyone in a big way. There are parallel stories involving the struggles of inventor of MP3 format, the music industry executive who has a good business acumen but seems overpaid and a common man leaking music out of a compact disc plant. Now I agree that these three factors play their roles in I am going to keep the review quite simple without much spoilers for the reader but would still talk about the general outline. I did like the book very much and it was on a subject which has impacted everyone in a big way. There are parallel stories involving the struggles of inventor of MP3 format, the music industry executive who has a good business acumen but seems overpaid and a common man leaking music out of a compact disc plant. Now I agree that these three factors play their roles in separate ways which are interlinked in a big scale I still feel that the weightage given to each stories could have been different. In an imperfect analogy, the title somehow makes people curious about to know more about the Robin Hoods of this story rather than about the King whom they were against at. The piece about music labels can be explored in details without having a characters point of view as the reader understands his motive quite early as the revenue generator rather than looking at a long term or future of the industry. The story of new rappers dishing out hits was rather interesting but as one progresses, it is clear that inventor and music leaker deserves centerstage more. Infact torrent technology and the resulting supersite were equally interesting sections. The fraunhoffer institute story shows that there should always be a team which can understand the far reaching consequence of a research- (similar thing as the case where xerox missed the power of GUI and lost out to apple.) An addendum can be added in the book over coming years about how STREAMING services killed the piracy (almost) but looking at how spotify and soundcloud are struggling against apple music that should be another book which the author might hopefully pursue after years. In short- Music got free because once the individual music files could be converted/digitized in a simple way and the delivery mechanism kept evolving (download/bootlegged cd/torrent). There is a plenty of research in the book which is commendable. Directly getting the info from the horse's mouth is no small feat (read the book to know who is the horse!). Kudos to the author to get so deep and make efforts. The end could not have been more solid, totally loved it.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Yaseen Jabbar

    Part historical novel, part epic, and part textbook, How Music Got Free is a look back at how the very concept of bootleg mp3s came about. In my teen years, I must have torrented over 200 gigs of music, all the way up until a few years ago when I switched to Spotify Premium. The book is a fascinating read, dispelling the premise that illegal mp3s are the work of many players: in fact, if it wasn't for the work of one man, almost all of modern music wouldn't be 'free'. The book starts in the Part historical novel, part epic, and part textbook, How Music Got Free is a look back at how the very concept of bootleg mp3s came about. In my teen years, I must have torrented over 200 gigs of music, all the way up until a few years ago when I switched to Spotify Premium. The book is a fascinating read, dispelling the premise that illegal mp3s are the work of many players: in fact, if it wasn't for the work of one man, almost all of modern music wouldn't be 'free'. The book starts in the 1980s with some German acoustic engineers who invented a compression algorithm for audio files, called MPEG III. And from then, the book charts the rise and fall of music executives, a high-level repository, and of course, YouTube. Witt's writing style is relaxed and breezy, going through each chapter with well-researched almost docudrama writing. This makes the book fun to read, and compelling - although if you like more conventional non-fic, the style will put you off. In this way, the book reads almost as an anthology of history, allowing you to get a sense of scale and time of each of the three main strands of the book (the leakers, the music industry, and the technologies). All in all, this book hooked me from the get-go, and taught me things about the history of my music tastes that I never knew. Where did those torrents come from? Now you know. The book unduly focuses on rap and r&b music, paying little attention to rock and pop, but the basic premise remains the same. I recommend this title to anyone who used to have - or still has - tens of gigabytes of illegal music somewhere on their PCs or an iPod lying around.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Rahul Jain

    I could, in a sense, boil it down to a scientist's (as well as the artist's) inability to understand the businessmen (the music industry) and vice-versa, leading to upheaval of the entire music industry, and pretty much how we currently interact with the internet. Maybe it all was inevitable, and maybe Brandenberg and Morris are just mediums to materialise the progress of the universe - if not them, but somebody else; but the story works as a fable - a clash of egos (even if rightly placed) and a I could, in a sense, boil it down to a scientist's (as well as the artist's) inability to understand the businessmen (the music industry) and vice-versa, leading to upheaval of the entire music industry, and pretty much how we currently interact with the internet. Maybe it all was inevitable, and maybe Brandenberg and Morris are just mediums to materialise the progress of the universe - if not them, but somebody else; but the story works as a fable - a clash of egos (even if rightly placed) and a lack of understanding could mean things larger than any of the characters involved can imagine. Stephen Witt's insistence on delving into each and every character's backstory enough to provide a generous character sketch, even for the most nominal of characters, lends the book a certain kind of mystery/thriller screenplay charm. (As well as the division of the chapters as meanwhile-at-the-ranch approach.) At the core is people's inability to see how little things lying beyond their small zone of comfort can destroy everything they consider normal - how would anyone know, that a small compression algorithm, based on the research of a group of scientists on human hearing, would lead to a political revolution in certain countries; and make pirates out of everyone. 4.5 (Lowered to 4)

  26. 5 out of 5

    Eldon Farrell

    This was a really outstanding read. Like the best of non-fiction, Stephen Witt parsed out the facts by relating it to the individuals who lived through it. An eye-opening account of a revolutionary time in the music business and technology. As we continue to move away from hard-based mediums toward the intangibility of digital, this book serves as a reminder of the dangers involved and sets itself up as must reading. 5 stars.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Ouida Foster

    This satisfied my geek questions about how it all happened. I sped-read this by skimming at times, but the author also did share the personalities where there were some surprising leaks.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Adam C Lewis

    A book on the evolution of music tech shouldn’t be this fun. I blitzed through it and loved it.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Shane Murphy

    I thought this book was fabulous, seemingly designed specifically for someone like me who has been obsessed by music since I was 11 in 1984 (thank you Cyndi Lauper), and bought into all its forms from vinyl, tape, cd, mp3s, torrents and streaming. I'm sure it misses swathes of the overall story, but with the dual focuses on the creation of the mp3 technology and the ensuing illegal digital distribution thereof, what's told is fascinating and, ironically, very human. The author doesn't judge any I thought this book was fabulous, seemingly designed specifically for someone like me who has been obsessed by music since I was 11 in 1984 (thank you Cyndi Lauper), and bought into all its forms from vinyl, tape, cd, mp3s, torrents and streaming. I'm sure it misses swathes of the overall story, but with the dual focuses on the creation of the mp3 technology and the ensuing illegal digital distribution thereof, what's told is fascinating and, ironically, very human. The author doesn't judge any of the actors, and while there are some oddly lengthy physical descriptions this further serves to make it a story about people rather than technology. The biggest surprise for me was how moved I was by the final anecdote regarding the author's own digital collection. The pace of technological change is so swift that it's easy for us old-'uns to feel left behind but despite everything, as long as the music remains that's all that matters.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Terry Collins

    A first rate job of reporting on how music distribution as we once knew it vanished into the ether. A book that could have been dry as dust was never boring or stodgy, but instead often read like a combination of high-tech thriller and “Joe Everyman.” Highly recommended for hardcore music fans.

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