I recently watched a documentary on Napster by Alex Winter via Jeff Lee. The documentary covers the rise and fall of the company, but does so by giving a 360 degree view of the time period.
It features interviews with the company’s founders, representatives from the RIAA, the recording industry, and a few other notable organizations during that time. In the film, you’ll see RealPlayer used to play a video, Winamp, and a microphone at a press conference with the TechTV logo. I love the way Winter uses material from the late 90s and early 2000s and shows it in the same way we consumed it in that time period.
When I Discovered Napster
In 1999, I turned 16 years old, received Quake 3 as a birthday present, and discovered Napster. I had a mediocre sized hard drive, an AMD K6 350 processor, and more importantly, a 56k modem connection. I routinely browsed Napster looking for singles I heard on the radio. While browsing for songs I knew, the vast catalog of content indexed by the service lead to the discovery of so many tunes and bands I’ve never heard of.
Downloading songs via a 56k modem was a painful process. Depending on the connection and how many peers I connected to, it could take anywhere from 30 minutes to over an hour to download a 3-5 Megabyte song. In 2000, we purchased 1.5Mb DSL from Ameritech. Not only did my Quake 3 skills increase (less lag) but download times for music were no longer an issue.
I remember when my family gathered around the Gateway PC with the familiar cow look and watched as I downloaded song after song in record time. Once speed became a non issue, I hoarded music and downloaded everything I could get my hands on. Some of it was junk, but most of it was awesome.
Napster as a Social Network
Napster wasn’t just about discovering and downloading music. Newer versions included the ability to chat with the people you downloaded files from. You could also add people as friends and join various chatrooms. In many ways, it was a social network. It sure was cool to chat with people at the same time you were downloading files from.
Napster Disappeared, But The Technology Never Will
Although Napster couldn’t survive the court system, it’s peer to peer file sharing technology lives on. Once Napster shut down, people moved in mass to similar products such as Kazaa, K-Lite, BearShare, LimeWire, and Morpheus. The courts shutting down Napster in effect created hundreds of smaller Napsters. Although similar technology is used in Torrents/BitTorrent, the concept and ease of use is clients doesn’t match that of Napster.
How I Listen and Discover Music Today
At the age of 31, 15 years after the launch of Napster, I hardly ever download an MP3. I either listen to music via YouTube playlists or listen to the MP3 catalog on my hard drive. I’ve purchased a few tracks on Amazon and maybe one or two on iTunes, but I rarely purchase music at all since it’s on demand from somewhere on the web.
As I get older, I’m making a more concerted effort to increase the audio quality of the content I listen to. MP3’s are a compressed format which ruins the subtle sounds in music. Great for shrinking the file size down, bad for audiophiles.
Wav files are a lossless medium for raw and uncompressed audio but the amount of data contained in them makes it hard to share. If Napster was the golden age of peer to peer sharing of MP3 files, will the increasing speeds of broadband connections generate a golden age of sharing raw, uncompressed audio files or will that too be relegated to the cloud somewhere as on-demand content?
Bonus Interview With Alex Winter
The guys over at the 404 Podcast did a great one hour interview with Alex Winter to discuss the making of the documentary. In it, he gives some behind the scenes info and discusses the industry today and how we’re still nowhere close to having a fusion between the record labels and digital distribution. A great interview to watch after you view the documentary.
One thought on “Documentary on The Rise and Fall of Napster by Alex Winter”
I remember setting a couple songs to download, then going off to school and hoping they were finished when I got back. I had an absolutely ridiculous amount of songs.
I first discovered Napster from my Dad and shortly after, he got a CD burner so all of that wonderful priarted music. Even at 4X speed and crazy-expensive blank CDs, I was burning CDs nonstop.
I really miss those days. Sadly, kids will never understand the need to wait for things. Watching a progress bar go by for an hour will be a thing of the past.