Friday, February 17, 2006

The Downloading Life

With the RIAA recently deeming the act of ripping music for iPods as not fair use, I think back to my college days. These were days when I saw firsthand how file-sharing started small and got big really quickly.

It's spring of 2000 and I'm really grooving to all things Jimmy Eat World, especially Clarity and Static Prevails. I am aware there are a number of non-LP tracks available on 7"s, EPs and comps and there's even an unreleased demo of a new song called "Sweetness" floating around. I have a desire to hear these songs, but I didn't know how to get a hold of them on CD, especially since a lot of these comps and 7"s were out-of-print.

At the time, I subscribed to a list-serv mailing list for all things Jimmy Eat World-related. People are talking about all these non-LP songs (especially "Sweetness") and someone asks, "Where can I find these songs?" In response, a member posts a link for I click on it and download the program. I get all the non-LP songs I could find and notice that there is quite a variety of songs available for download. Figuring I wouldn't be downloading tracks by artists like Britney Spears, I stay on the hunt for non-LP songs by other bands like Coldplay.

A short time later, one of my roommates was looking for a Britney Spears song via the Internet. Frustrated that he couldn't find anything via the traditional search engines like Google, I suggest he check out Napster. After he downloads the program and sees what all he can get, he looks like a kid that has just discovered television. It's a whole new world.

Following this, another roommate of mine finds out about Napster and is constantly downloading songs from it. He would often sit in our den, think of a song he wanted and see if he could get it. Oftentimes he found what he was looking for and would soon burn these songs onto CD-Rs. This was before CD-Rs and CD burners were as error-proof as they are now, so many miss-burns were had.

Thinking about this trail now, it seems like what happened all across the world with peer-to-peer networks. Sure, Napster was later banned on campus, but by then, other P2Ps like BearShare, Scour and Kazaa were up and running in its place. There was definitely a cool opportunity to grab as many songs as you wanted, but then came in this big misconception about downloading.

For me as a music fan in the US, I didn't have cheap and easy access to b-sides found on singles by my favorite bands. Seeing if these songs were available on a P2P was worth the dig. In the case of Coldplay, when I found all of the Parachutes-era b-sides, I marveled at what I heard. I had purchased Parachutes because of the tracks I downloaded and wanted to hear more. Not only did I get their terrific b-sides, but I also obtained a full live BBC concert. Downloading didn't sway me from buying music; it made the experience more than just a single album with a dozen or so tracks. However, people like my roommates didn't exactly see it this way.

What has stunk the whole time with downloading, ripping and sharing MP3s and burning CD-Rs has been the general lumping together of one mindset. The most common is that people get these songs from the Internet and don't buy any music. Well, that's not me. My mindset is this: get the song or album however I can. Whether it means downloading from an MP3 blog or iTunes or ripping a song from a CD from either mine or Jason's library into iTunes, I do whatever is the easiest. I'm a stickler for 192-CD-quality and remastered quality for songs pre-1990s, so each song is a search in itself.

I continue to be lost in the shuffle on this topic. I love hearing music and love the kind of access the Internet grants. It's just a bummer to share a "guilty by association" with so many others who have a pedestrian view of music.

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