Download confessional

I was complaining to a record store co-worker the other day about prepackaged bands and how transparent the whole industry has become. He responded that he doesn’t pay attention to the hype: he gets the majority of his music from MySpace.com. I told this story to another friend who also said that the majority of his music comes from MySpace. Taking a look at my own habits, I realized my life as a downloader has taken a turn I hadn’t yet recognized.

Can you believe it’s been seven years since Napster debuted? I was a sophomore in high school in small-town Arizona. Everyone was talking about this new program you could use to download free music. Of course, most rural Arizonans only had dial-up, and each song took hours to complete, but we soon discovered the beauty of our school’s high speed connection. Discreetly searching and downloading, we burned CDs during long photo imaging classes. More than anything, I used Napster to share home recordings of my band. I sent out bulk emails asking people to download our music: and it worked! All over Arizona, strangers were downloading our poorly written and poorly recorded music! I didn’t fully realize it then, but downloading compressed digital music files would change everything. An extension of cassette culture and DIY, it marked a new chapter in music history—and my history too, as it linked me to the outside world.

Record executives don’t really understand the downloading generation, kids like me who grew up with filesharing. Sure, they can play us off like we’re not the ones actually buying the music, but they need to wise up: there’s a lot of money to be made in my demographic. Have they taken the time to really see what relationship younger music consumers have with their file sharing software? I’ve used various sites over the years to acquire music: Napster, WinMX, Kazaa, Audiogalaxy, MP3.com, LimeWire, Soulseek, MySpace, and other various ftp servers and BitTorent sites. The list goes on, but the three that have shaped my experience most, and the ones record executives should pay attention to, are MP3.com, Soulseek, and MySpace.com (yep, me too).

In the late 90s, MP3.com created a music community for people (mainly teens and 20s) outside the poison purview of the RIAA, payola, and Clear Channel (fast-forward to Sony/BMG embedded spyware today: it’s a natural progression). Like millions of others, I visited the MP3.com charts daily to preview and download new music. I was young. I had no understanding of the industry. I couldn’t tell the difference between an indie, major, or self recorded/self released band… and it didn’t matter. That’s the pure and innocent atmosphere MP3.com fostered.

It improved on the world Napster had opened. Local bands like mine could upload our songs for free, create a biography, have a calendar for upcoming shows, and show off pictures. It made us feel… legitimate. It was a teenage fantasy come true. Our band was listed alongside established artists and we could instantly track the results of hard work.

Before it collapsed financially (Universal won a $200 million law suit), MP3.com had over 25 million registered users with nearly 4 million downloads per day. It closed for “improvements,” sold for $370 million, and now CNET has turned it into another sterile digital music megastore. Like Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru before me, my home was destroyed. Picking up the pieces, I searched for a new place to download music.

After a couple years of ups and downs (Audiogalaxy, WinMX), I discovered Soulseek. Spyware free, organized and reliable files, and a wonderful selection for the musically adventurous, Soulseek is (in my humble opinion) the best P2P program out there. A few things I’ve noticed as a Soulseeker: First, people are hungry for new music. There are times when I bring a promotional copy of a coveted CD home, rip it on my hard drive, and person after person waits in line to download. Second, one of the best ways I’ve encountered to find new music is by browsing other users’ files. It may seem voyeuristic and intrusive, but in a good way.

If Soulseek feels a little under the radar, MySpace is anything but. You older readers may not realize how popular this is, but it gets more hits per day than Google and AOL, making it the fourth most visited site after Yahoo, MSN, and eBay.

MySpace culture is hard to understand. I don’t know if it’s a community or cult. What started as a site for meeting friends, keeping a blog, and uploading pictures has expanded and now offers free music. Like MP3.com, anyone can upload their recorded music and make an artist profile page. For many bands, MySpace is the new demo. Quite a few venues and bars no longer ask for a demo, just a link to your page. This has opened a whole new world of promotion, and the possibilities are endless. However, with Rupert Murdock recently purchasing the site for nearly $600 million, changes are likely to come.

I guess I belong to this community. I never saw it coming; it just consumes you before you realize it. And I can understand why my friends get their music from MySpace. It’s a way to connect with a community, find great unsigned bands, and avoid the hype machine. So for now, I’m hooked on MySpace but I don’t know how I feel about that. I have to face the facts: I’ve grown up a downloader.

One response to “Download confessional”

  1. Bryan Waterman says:

    So how should the record execs respond to MySpace–or Soulseek, for that matter? Is it simply that they don’t understand the communal listening/sharing dynamic?

    Is it true that parents and other authority types also use MySpace–as a way to spy on kids and keep track of them? (I’m obviously dating myself by asking this.)