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Classical 101

Digital Suicide: How the Recording Industry Killed Itself

Apple's 2nd gen i-Pod mini

In the mid 90s, the music industry began to slowly dismantle itself.  In a business version of "death by a thousand cuts," recording industry executives ignored the approaching digital tsunami, because it was sunny and calm at the beach.

Stephen Witt's new book, How Music Got Free: What Happens When an Entire Generation Commits the Same Crime? tells the story of how growth and consolidation, ignoring technology, and believing yourself to be ten feet tall and bulletproof allowed, "a tiny group of hip-hop fans and computer geeks (to) slowly dismantle a multimillion-dollar industry."

When copies of recordings had to be made in real time, it was a slow and laborious process.  Cassette copies never sounded quite as good as the originals and reel-to-reel was for audiophiles and broadcast stations.  According to Witt, the recording industry had their first warning of the approaching sea change in technology in 1995 at the Audio Engineering Society’s Paris trade fair.  A German state-funded research team run by Karlheinz Brandenburg had a booth set up in the vendor area.  There were six scientists seated there; ready to roll out their newest project.  They were there to demonstrate, "a three-way vision for the future of music distribution: an encoder on a floppy disk for creating sound files, a home computer for playback and a hand-held player for portable listening."

No one wanted to listen.  Witt says one executive from the Philips Corporation came by and bluntly stated,  “There will never be a commercial MP3 player.”


The people whose job it was to make hit records seemed to believe the technology was nothing more than a tool to use for that.  Had they taken a step back and realized what COULD, (and eventually DID) happen, maybe there could have been some infrastructure with safeguards to prevent the eventual open season on sharing music.

Bob Stanley takes a look at the above-mentioned book in his article, Music is free now – and the industry only has itself to blame, in the culture section at newstatesman.com.  It is well worth the read.

Now if you are one of those people who likes to go against the grain a little bit AND you're handy with tools, here's your next project.

If you prefer to go old-school and carry a boombox, don't go buy something.  You can make your own out of a vintage piece of Samsonite luggage.  Crazy?  Only a little.  Have fun!