Sean Parker, one of the co-founders of Napster, is one of the driving forces behind Spotify. This may not be news to other musicians, but it certainly was to me. I watch a lot of documentaries on Netflix. Yesterday, I watched “Downloaded”, the film about how Napster completely revolutionized the music industry, by making the downloading of mp3 files available to the masses. I had very mixed feelings watching the film. I felt that it was pretty non-biased, and gave various points of view about the whole phenomenon, both good and bad.
Napster was started by Shawn Fanning, John Fanning and Sean Parker, while the three of them were still in high school. According to the movie, originally their intent was simply to make an application that would make it easier to share the music you love with your friends. It was meant to be a social networking site, similar to Facebook, only people shared music, instead of pictures of their children, their cat, etc. I realized after watching the movie, that these kids at the time knew absolutely nothing about royalties, licensing, copyright law, or the music business in general. Therefore, I did feel a bit sorry for them, while watching the movie, when they eventually showed them being sued. I think their intentions, were very good initially, they were just very naive.
One person in the movie pointed out a very positive effect to idea of people being able to share their personal collection of music with the world. He said that there are many musical recordings that are rare or have been out of print for years. You literally can’t find these anywhere anymore. But when Napster was at it’s height of popularity, it gave masses of numbers of people access to these great recordings. He said that at time, you could literally find almost anything on Napster, no matter how rare it was. I agree with his comments, and feel this was a positive aspect people freely sharing their music collections.
I also find mp3’s to be much more convenient than CD’s in some ways. It’s great to be able to bring my tunes with me when I go running. It’s great not to have to carry 30 CD’s in the car with me. It’s also great to be able to go online to Amazon.com or iTunes, and quickly find a song or CD, then instantly download it. I used to have to spend time searching through record or CD stores, driving around, and hoping to find the music recording I was looking for.
The invention of music downloads also opened up a whole new world of possibility for independent musicians. In the past, someone had to pay to print up and copy all those CD’s or albums. After that, someone had to distribute those CD’s in record stores, Walmart, or wherever. Therefore, it was virtually impossible for a small artist to distribute their music on a national level, let alone an international level. But now, all artists have the ability to distribute their music around the world for virtually no cost.
Those are some of the positive effects of downloadable music files and Napster’s influence on the music business in general. Unfortunately, it’s had some really negative effects as well. The first is that there is a whole generation of music consumers who now feel like music should be free. Initially, people said this would mostly hurt major label artists, selling hundreds of thousands, or millions of copies of their music a year. However, as an independent artist myself, I can attest that it’s become just as hard for small artists to sell a few thousand copies of their music, when the public now expects music to be free. It still can be done, it’s just that much more difficult now than it was before the advent of digital downloading.
Mp3’s have also cheapened the perceived value of recordings, even when people have to pay for them. A guy once told me that he thought .99 was way to much money to pay for a digital recording, since there’s no actual physical product being exchanged. I believe that this is one of the reasons for the resurgence of vinyl records. People simply feel like they’re really getting something for their money.
Sean Parker’s most recent project is Spotify, a program that allows users to stream almost any music and listen on their computer for free. Spotify artists or their labels all sign licencing agreements, to allow the streaming of their music on the site, for which they receive royalties. Not a bad idea, if the artists really get paid what they have coming to them. Unfortunately, as of now, major artists claim that although they have hundreds of thousands of plays on the site, they receive almost nothing in return for their work. If major artists can’t make any money on Spotify, how can a small independent artist hope to?
Paul McCartney, among other major label acts, has refused to sign a licensing agreement with Spotify, explaining that he feels it’s simply not a good deal for artists. As of right now, I tend to agree with him. I welcome your comments or feedback.