Monday, July 06, 2009

Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music

Greg Kot’s "Ripped" offers a clear look at how the old school recording industry, primarily the major record labels, committed group suicide by allowing the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) to attack the customers who put money into its various corporate pockets. The dinosaurs managing the major labels failed to recognize the multitude of potential benefits offered by the new digital technology of the internet, insisting instead that it was to be business as usual for them. Very few big labels or their CEOs survived the mass suicide, and the misguided fools at the RIAA are steadily wiping out the few survivors.

Ready or not, and the labels were certainly not ready, “a new generation of bands and fans empowered by personal computers and broadband Internet connections…forged a new world of music distribution that seized control from once all-powerful music and radio conglomerates.” Suddenly, even the most obscure regional bands could find a market for their music, and just as suddenly, that music was largely available on the internet free of charge. Rather than embracing the new technology, however, and offering its back catalogs and new music for sale in the new mp3 format at a reasonable price, the industry panicked and decided to have the RIAA try to kill song downloading through lawsuits and other nasty intimidation methods.

The labels, of course, were trying to protect CD sales, a goldmine format in which it resold its back catalog to longtime music fans for the third or fourth times. Many consumers had purchased the same music in multiple formats over the years already, vinyl albums, 8-track tapes, cassette tapes, and CDs, and when the opportunity to get music at little or no cost presented itself, they jumped all over it. Most downloaders felt little guilt about “stealing” music from the labels and, instead, saw the opportunity as a kind of payback from the label for all the money already wasted on overpriced CDs. It did not help the labels that so many of the new CDs being marketed contain only one or two decent tracks and ten “fillers.” Now the consumer was doing the “ripping” rather than being “ripped off” by the labels.

The music industry is hardly recognizable today and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Independent labels and even independent artists are doing better on their own today than when they were dependent on the major record labels and radio conglomerates to give them any exposure. The industry may not like it, but radio stations, record labels, and television channels such as MTV and CMT do not move many recordings these days. Much more important to this generation is word-of-mouth, internet buzz, music blogs, and bands and singers that market themselves through the new technology.

It has never been better for independent and regional bands willing and able to do it for themselves. No longer are they tied to record company contracts from which 90% never made a dime, in the first place. No longer is their future in the hands of business types who care little about the music and see it all as some interchangeable product whose artistic value is purely coincidental.

"Ripped" explains well how it all happened and where the industry may be heading. The second half of the book does focus, however, a bit too much on individual bands that either have fought or embraced the new world in which they find themselves. This portion of the book becomes overly repetitive at times, and offers more detail about some of the bands than most readers will care to wade through, but anyone interested in the music business as it works today will do well to add "Ripped" to his library.

Rated at: 4.0

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