Don't Take My Napster Away

If there is anything that drives me up the wall, it's rock stars lecturing me on how I can or can't use my computer.If you're at all into music, you should really read "Artists to Napster: Drop Dead!" in the March 24 edition of Salon (www.salon.com/ent/feature/2000/03/24/napster_artists/index.html). The article relates how major-label musicians fear that an increasingly popular Internet program, Napster (www.napster.com), might suck their profit base clean out from under them. Their revulsion reveals what shamelessly greedy individuals they truly are.I will say this: Their fears are on the money. Napster could very well spell the end of the music industry. At least, it would if every fan had a computer and a fast Internet connection. (And with the money they'd save by using Napster and not buying $16 CDs, they'd be able to afford the hardware.)Napster allows people to easily download recordings from a central, easy-to-navigate database. It's frighteningly simple. When you fire this free program up, it indexes all the MP3 recordings on your hard drive, and adds that index to a collective pool of the recordings everyone else using Napster has available at that time -- creating a huge reservoir of free music. There's no reason for computer-savvy cheapskate to ever buy a CD again.And boy, you should read how musicians are whining about this piece of software. Once upon a time, rock music stood for rebellion -- revolution, even. But watch how these pathetic creatures bristle with moralistic indignation when it is their own bank accounts being plundered:"Napster is robbing me blind," Scott Sapp, lead singer for the alt-rock band Creed, yelps."Artists should be compensated for the work that they do," Blondie singer Debbie Harry bemoans."Artists should get paid for their work," singer-songwriter Aimee Mann pipes in."No matter what you do for a living, you should get paid for your work," Atlantic recording artist Bif Naked adds, "whether you're washing dishes or recording songs."Work, work, work. Work, I should point out, is something we don't want to do -- something that, if we weren't being paid for it, we wouldn't do. If these people really see making music as work, well, maybe they should get out of the business.The quote that really brings it home for me is from Sting's manager, Miles Copeland, who warns, "If there's no money in music, there's not going to be much music left." Really? So music didn't exist before people could make money from it?Only during this century has the public perception of music shifted to the notion that it's something made by others -- that music must be created at great expense and only by extremely talented people. Hogwash. Long before the recording industry came along, people entertained themselves musically. They gathered around pianos in parlors, or circled the harmonica player at the proverbial campfire, or sang sea chanteys or field hollers as they worked.And this is what I bet really worries the industry: the idea that one day the masses will once again start seeing music as something you make yourself rather than something you buy. If too many people realize this, musicians will all be out of their cushy, ego-stroking jobs. And if the music industry collapses from too many people pirating music for free, then the only music we'll be left with will come from those who make music only for the joy of making it. They might make it in home studios after doing their day jobs, but they'll still make it -- and post it online for others to enjoy. And, not considering it "work," they probably won't be too worried about getting paid for it, any more than someone would get worried about getting paid for having sex (unless that someone is a prostitute).OK, it's a romantic notion, this idea that one day soon we'll all croon ditties to one another around the water cooler and every kid with two turntables and a microphone will be Beck. Music may indeed be better if we pay the most talented people to keep churning it out. (Though I wonder: Is a Fleetwood Mac album that cost millions to record proportionally better than a Ramones one that cost $3,000?) But the music industry must come up with some better method of vending its wares. We don't drive around in horse-drawn buggies in order to keep blacksmiths employed; it's equally absurd that we compensate rock stars by purchasing round discs in plastic cases that are available only at certain stores. The inefficiency of this distribution system is compounded by the fact that we might only like a handful of songs on a given CD, but we must buy the whole thing to get what we want. (In the software world, this practice is called "bundling" and Microsoft got its hands slapped by the Department of Justice for doing it.)Why hasn't the music industry come up with a way I can purchase individual songs as easily as I can illegally download them? (And don't tell me about singles -- I don't choose what songs are available on singles, the industry does.) Why is it that a piece of free software created by a 19-year-old college student provides a service the entire music industry is incapable of offering? One reason and one reason only: greed. Nope, I don't feel sorry for these artists. Not one bit.E-mail: joabj@charm.net

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