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Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music

Journalist Greg Kot explores the new reality of pop music in a digital age.

By Lorne Entress / June 8, 2009



Is the wage-earning career musician headed for extinction? Probably not. But with an estimated 95 percent of music downloads illegally pirated, it’s getting scary out there. Computers, once thought to be nifty tools for calculating and storing information, have evolved, and they’re changing the music profession at light-speed.

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Pandora’s ibox is irreparably open, and the music industry is scrambling to get a grip on the new reality. And just what is this new reality? P2P? Mash-ups? Pitchfork? IP rights? BitTorrent? Got all that? If not, music critic/journalist Greg Kot helps decipher the jargon and update us on the state of pop music in his insightful new book Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music.

To the casual observer, the debate surrounding downloaded music appears simple. Do we stand with the record industry’s efforts to quash illegal downloading, or do we believe that our culture is better served by eliminating copyright restrictions on recorded music? With the recent conviction of the owners of Pirate Bay (the world’s largest website for illegally downloading music, movies, and software) the debate has been re-energized, and the invective heating up.

Some point to the conviction as evidence that the record companies are winning. Others argue that their “whack-a-mole” approach of shutting down illegal sites is futile, and that the industry’s heavy hand is turning off consumers.

Yet amid all the hubbub, “Ripped” reveals a third stream may be emerging. Through illuminating interviews with music’s movers and shakers, Kot details the way the entire pop milieu is evolving, with new ways of making, distributing, and profiting from music. The dust has far from settled, and recording artists are still smarting from the one-two punch of illegal downloads and  a soft economy. But with “Ripped,” Kot broadens the discussion and expands our grasp of the issue, providing hope that the future may yet benefit both listener and musician.

It didn’t help that the record industry shot itself in the foot just as the computer revolution was under way. Kot sadly explains how industry consolidation led to an overemphasis of the bottom line, disturbing the delicate balance between art and commerce that a label has to maintain to be successful. Record companies abandoned their practice of patiently nurturing a musician’s career, investing instead in pop acts with less talent and even less staying power. Success could be momentarily impressive. But the quick flame-out of artists such as Ricky Martin or the Backstreet Boys made for few lifelong fans and less profit in the long term.

It also had another effect. Fed up with superficial stars and excessive CD prices, young people began to look for music that they could connect with – and they found it on the Web. Case in point, Death Cab for Cutie. Kot’s take on the band’s fan-driven, Internet-up success is an inspired example of how an act can launch itself without the money and machinery of a big record label.

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