The unthinkable happened yesterday. No, I
didn’t make deadline, and no, I didn’t finally fully
move into my new bedroom after two months of living out of laundry
baskets. It’s even more bewildering and scandalous than
Despite it going against every lingering ethical fiber in my
jittery soul, I did what even six months ago no self-respecting
college student would have dared. I … I legally downloaded
music from the Internet.
Yeah, I know friends, pretty pathetic. Imagine actually paying
for what for almost five years has been a totally free enterprise,
both monetarily and guilt-wise.
Hell, it was more than that. After dealing with bloated prices
for CDs/concert tickets and having increasingly bland,
uninteresting acts marketed down our throats by the record
industry, it seemed like a moral imperative to hide in the grey
shade of peer-to-peer file sharing. Major labels might have
screamed about Napster and the like for killing their already
slumping sales, but what other industry could be so utterly
out-of-touch that it belligerently blames its own archaic
incompetence on the very consumers it’s been pissing off for
Oh yeah, and it was FREE! Manifestos aside, I got to hear music
without paying for it. Like radio might have 25 years ago and
mix-tape networks, file sharing made us better fans, if only
because you could experiment with what you were listening to, you
could track down obscure tracks without having to shell out cash
for something you were taking a chance on. You didn’t have to
live near a cool record store, you didn’t have to know cool
people; this was the kind of autonomous communalism that would have
done Jefferson proud, a free exchange of ideas that will influence
the course of pop music for decades yet to come.
So, why’d I cave?
Well frankly, the Gestapo tactics of the RIAA were really
successful, in that they scared the crap out of me. If they were
willing to sue 12-year-old kids and working-class parents, then I
didn’t have a prayer. I didn’t even bother downloading
Kazaa or Soul Seek when I got my new laptop. When an acquaintance
got busted here at the University, it confirmed my worst fears.
Revolution’s over, I said to myself, we lost.
OK, OK, so right now charges have only been brought against
people who are putting MP3s up for others to download, so you could
probably get away with just downloading music for another few
months. But that’d just mean somebody else would take the
fall. Nobody else deserves to get screwed so I can listen to
“Hey Ya” over and over again.
Anyways, like a reported million other PC users, I downloaded
the Windows compatible version of Apple’s incredible
audio-player iTunes last week when it was released. By pure
coincidence, I just bought a new iPod last week, but was frustrated
by the clunking Musicmatch Jukebox that was passed on to Windows
With the iPod quite simply blowing every other MP3 player on the
market, Steve Jobs really has the music world by the short hairs.
What’s more, he’s the first to be actually making any
notable money off legitimate downloading.
iTunes makes it infinitely easier to manage your iPod, which is
important when you suddenly find out that you can upload almost
5,000 songs and carry them around in your pocket (free tip for
anybody thinking about taking all their old Napster files and
tossing them on an MP3: make sure all the tracks are labeled
correctly. A bunch of stuff has the wrong titles on it and
it’s gonna be weeks before I get everything straightened
iTunes directly connects its users to Apple’s online
digital music store. The going rate for a song is 99 cents, which
sounds reasonable even to those of us spoiled by free trading. The
selection is even decent with more and more labels signing up their
artists’ back-catalogues for downloads all the time. Even
indie stalwarts like Matador and Kill Rock Stars are onboard, which
is even better since these smaller labels lack the resources to
fight piracy like the big boys do. You’re not going to be
able to find those deleted Smith singles or the never released
Replacements outtake you might stumble across on Limewire if you
hunted long enough. The ultra-obscure stuff won’t be there
for the same reason you can’t find it at Best Buy —
there’s no money in it for the vender. Still, Apple’s
really trying to push iTunes onto new users so there are plenty of
exclusive live tracks and celebrity playlists to buy. Why you need
to know what Nora Jones is listening to I have no idea, but
it’s there just in case.
I had this big plan to download something really classy for the
epic occasion of flipping sides. If I’m gonna sell out, I
said, I’m doing it in style. Miles Davis, Etta James, maybe
Johnny Cash I thought. Ended up just getting two Ben Folds EPs.
Typical, go to the store for substantive milk, end up blowing my
money on ice cream.
Well, a single tear dribbled down my cheek as I typed my credit
card number in, forking over the 99 cents a song to the Man. Ah, it
was a sad day indeed, and I felt really old for about 10 seconds.
Then I put on Folds’ cover of “In Between Days”
by the Cure and suddenly everything seemed strangely alright.