There was a time when record labels helped build musical artists' careers. They would find them, encourage and support them, and help deliver their art to the public. There was a time that the public would also support those artists financially, making pilgrimages to brick and mortar record stores on a regular basis and dropping cash to help sustain those careers. Quaint, no?
As Greg Kot’s book Ripped: How The Wired Generation Revolutionized Music points out, those days are gone. Or, at best, they exist on an entirely different plane. The ripples of the digital revolution are far and wide, touching and re-defining virtually every aspect of the music industry: from the recording studios, to the distribution channels, to point of sales and consumption. It is a brave new world.
Kot’s book is a riveting read, and essential to understanding how we got to the global, wireless, on-demand world that many now take for granted. It’s a road paved not by high-powered and highly-paid industry executives, but by a new generation of music lovers unwilling to wait for the old model to catch up to how they consume music. Kot doubles down on that notion by using quotes from millennials and artists such as Bjork and Ani DiFranco to open each chapter, and it’s a very effective move.
“We’’re in a day when nobody buys music unless they’ve heard it. Because we don’t trust anyone, really.” — Garrison, born 1982
“I liked way more music than I could afford at $13 a CD. As soon as I could get it for free, that was over.” — Emma, born 1988
Those two comments alone are an indictment on the industry’s hold over both what was showcased on radio, and the labels pricing strategy, often considered greedy during the heyday of the compact disc.
“The whole marketing machine that was built on top of a song from the 1950’s until now wasn’t built to last.” — Bjork
“Getting out and playing is the first step, and the last. That’s never going to change.” — Ani DiFranco
Very prescient, but not what the record industry wanted to hear. Some artists —and perhaps even label people — “got” it, but it all happened so quickly that it blindsided an entire industry that alternated between ignoring it, wishing it would go away and, finally, suing its customer base in court. Wow; think about that!
There’s a ton of information in this book, but it’s constructed in a way that makes it a fun and fascinating read. Aside from the quotes that set up each chapter, Kot focuses on a specific artist or fan experience to help illustrate the larger point. From Prince, Tom Petty or Wilco embracing giving away their music, to the underground discovery and music trading that built artists like Death Cab for Cutie or Conor Oberst's career in the absence of a major label. Each chapter is a link in the chain and it paints one whopper of a story about ignorance, failed strategy, and simply misreading and misunderstanding the changing customer base and the technology it embraced. The MP3 phenomenon was a revolution from the inside — that is, the consumer itself. The failure of the industry to understand that their product was the music itself and not the format, led to its downfall. Kot’s book is essential to any music fan, whether you miss the vinyl and headphone experience, or simply love the ability to listen, share and purchase music on the fly. Highly, highly recommended for anyone interested in the musical evolution — and revolution.
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