Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Making a Case: Shawn Fanning

He put the pee stains in the RIAA's underwear.
Rock and roll was originally about being a bad ass.

Playing rock and roll meant you sacrificed a lot of money following your dream down a long, unlit dirt road.  

“Being” a rock and roll used to mean you raised a middle finger and a fist to the status quo.

To aspiring artists, those tenets are still largely true, though not as frowned upon. To everybody else, rock and roll is just another pre-faded T-shirt at the bottom of their not-actually-dirty pile of dirty laundry.

That was especially the case in 1999. You remember 1999, right? Good heavens, I've tried forgetting it but the awful memories won't allow me. 1999 is when the most un-rock and roll artists topped the charts. 

You had albums by both of these tools. Admit it.

I mean, shit, Korn competed for the same fan base as 98 Degrees, and the kids couldn’t buy enough of them. The key word is “buy” because a year later that word began its disassociation with the music industry.  

Credit Shawn Fanning, mastermind of Napster and the biggest and most bad ass rebel that rock and roll has seen since the Rock Hall constructed its ugly-ass pyramids in 1986.

Shawn Fanning did what countless musicians wished they could do: He (metaphorically speaking) shoved his middle finger in the face of Recording Industry Association or America (RIAA) suits then kicked them square in the balls every day for about two years.

How rock and roll is that? Who in the history of music changed the music industry more than Shawn Fanning? Is such a revolution even possible anymore?

Most importantly, whose lives didn’t Shawn Fanning affect?

How many people didn’t think twice of downloading a yet-to-be released album… just because they could? How many people began to dislike Metallica after they spoke out against Napster?

Napster not only saved me hundreds of dollars I would have wasted on shitflop albums, it also opened my eyes and ears to hundreds of bands I wouldn’t have otherwise discovered.
My formula was simple, I Napster’d bands listed in the liner notes of my favorite albums. Within three months, I left the depressing confines of shitty post-grunge and discovered Supergrass and The Hellacopters and dozens of other bands that I had no earthly business discovering while locked in the cultural shackles of Western Pennsylvania. 

Yes, a lot of artists suffered because of this leveling of the recording industry. Labels now have less money to dole out to fewer artists, which means that labels will be less likely to take a risk on an experimental or non-traditional artist few people have heard about.

My argument against that: Nowadays, all artists need to sell their music is a computer with an Internet connection. And you know what, Mr. Self-Important Singer-Songwriter Guy Who Bogarts the Coffee Shop Open Mic Night With Overwrought Emo Songs? It’s the best chance you’ll have to making a dollar or getting gullible girls to like your insufferable songs about your heart and soul or whatever. Better than the chances of a major label getting a whiff of you in 1990, back when nobody had the luxury of truly being an independent musician.

All this is beside the point. According to the Rock Hall, the non-performer category honors “songwriters, producers, disc jockeys, record executives, journalists and other industry professionals who have had a major influence on the development of rock and roll.” (EDITOR'S NOTE: The Hall changed the non-performer category to the "Ahmet Ertegun Award" in 2011, another lame attempt to hide their true intentions behind names and pointless jargonese - G.E.)
To say that Shawn Fanning was a major influence is the understatement of the year. But Shawn Fanning’s ultimate contribution to rock and roll wasn’t the beautiful destruction of major record labels. Rather, it is the empowered and enlightened consumer.

In 1999, people bought albums chock full of over-produced duds after hearing one mildly catchy single. Most often, that was all they were allowed to hear before spending $16.99 for that song and 11 others.

Since 2000 and for the foreseeable future, people can buy an album for much less after listening to the album in its entirety. And that purchase is a statement because any major label album can be downloaded for free.

This revolution was televised on our computer screens, millions and millions of them. The RIAA poo poo’d about it all the way to court room. And though the court ruled in the RIAA’s favor, it did little to change people’s attitude that major labels sell overpriced, overpackaged, overmarketed music.

Nobody in the Rock Hall seemed to notice. I’m not surprised.

1 comment:

  1. Word!
    After Steve Jobs died, lots of media outlets were talking about how the ipod changed the music industry more than anything else in the last 25 years, but I think it was Fanning. Portable MP3 players are all well and good, but if everyone didn't already have MP3s from Napster, what would they need an iPod for in the first place?