How Music Got Free by Stephen Witt

I had gone to the bookstore one day back in the summer of 2015 with the intention of picking up an entirely different book, when the to-the-point four word title of this one – How Music Got Free – snagged my attention and the topic beckoned to me… “Buy me”. I did, and when I brought it home I placed it on a shelf in my home I affectionately refer to as the priority shelf, where it remained for over a year in good company among a queue a dozen or so other books I have the best intentions of reading someday soon.

At a year and some months since the date of purchase, I just couldn’t resist the temptation of this one any longer. In comparison to the time other books often spend on the priority shelf, sometimes five or six years, this one was still a figurative baby. I understood the topic from the telling title and subsequent cover text description: the end of an industry, the turn of the century, and the patient zero of piracy.

I was working as a Disc Jockey in the 1990s when it all went down; the demise of physical media brought about by the internet and the MP3. In layman’s terms, there used to be places called record stores where you went to buy things called compact discs which had music on them. Then the internet and the introduction of the MP3 changed everything because people could get the same music that they used to have to pay for at record stores, except on the internet it was free.

Yet I bought the book knowing there was more to the story, and author Stephen Witt delivered in spades. How Music Got Free is a phenomenally researched work, delivered through a step by step recounting of the events and circumstances that made it all possible including a few Easter eggs and a big “I see what you did there” in the end.

How Music Got Free could not be a more precise title for this book, and it told the story I had hoped it would on the subject I thought it would, while at the same time telling a tale much more layered and far more interesting than I’d imagined.  For anyone interested in the fine details of a generally understood occurrence, this is where you’ll find them.  Sure, the MP3 and the internet and music sharing changed the music industry forever. Yet contrary to popular belief the changes were not brought about overnight, but in stages riddled with obstacles and pauses brought on by some technologies advancing faster than others and ultimately aligning to bring about the inevitable.

No spoilers here, just props to the writer and his book for an enlightening and eye opening story of something I knew happened, but now have a comprehensive grasp and understanding of how.  A remarkably well researched book of a fascinating story made all the more interesting through the cleverly crafted narrative by a talented author (whom I hope to see more from in the future).

Well worth the read.


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