When I was a kid the music business was really simple. Labels discovered artists, artist made music, shops sold music, we bought music.
Things have gotten complicated in the last 15 years and if you'd like to get a handle on why this book sheds a lot of light.
Steve Knopper does a fantastic job of recasting the recent history of music as a page-turner whodunit of epic proportions. `Epic' referring to epic greed (with a complimentary side order of monumental stupidity). The `who' of course are the major labels (and the RIAA) and the `it' that they `dun' is killed the record industry.
Anytime any new technology appears from CDs & DAT to mp3 players and, yes, of course, Napster, they try to sue it or kill it. Examples abound. Here's a few of my favourites.
1981-82. After a presentation to executives what they could expect from the new CD technology, they throw it open for questions. Jay Lasker, head of ABC-Paramount records asks why his cable TV picture is sometimes cloudy.(What the...?)
2007. Doug Morris CEO of Universal Music Group explains in an interview with Wired magazine why the majors were blindsided by the digital revolution.
"There's no one in the record company that's a technologist...It's like if you were suddenly asked to operate on your dog to remove his kidney. What would you do?"
The interviewer replies,
"Personally I would hire a vet".
The sad thing is that Universal did have amazingly talented technologists, like Albhy Galuten, working for them already. They were just overlooked and ignored. They should have been easy to spot. They were the ones wearing Napster T-shirts.
Speaking of Napster the book makes it clear that the labels had their chance to buy it or make a deal with it. As one artist manager said later, in Napster there were 30 million music users in one place on the net, ready to be sold music, advertising whatever. But the industry killed Napster, Grokster and every other -Ster including a few they created themselves.
Eventually they were left with only one option.
Steve Jobs struck a deal whereby he would get 22 cents on every one of their songs in return for the labels making 0 cents on everyone of Steve's iPods. And because the labels had already killed off the bricks and mortar record stores and the only real record store in town was (you guessed it) Steve J's online emporium.
The examples of greed are too numerous to mention but on fact above all others should make every self-respecting musician want to grab a handful of dirt to throw on Sony's (et al) coffin. When CDs replaced vinyl the retail price jumped $8. Artist's royalties increased by 6 cents.
If you're trying to make a living in the music business and any of the above is a surprise to you then you need to buy this book.
By the way...
I can't help feeling that some of the more negative reviews of this book are because they were expecting this to be something it's plainly not. This is a book about why things went wrong and are doomed to go wronger still. If you want to know where things are heading (and the future is bright, unless your surname is Warner) then you need to check out The Future of Music: Manifesto for the Digital Music Revolution