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HOORAY FOR NAPSTER
by: Lucas T. Hanback

Let me begin with a little background about myself. I am a music addict. I love music, I'll listen to just about anything from classic rock to classical, anything from the Velvet Underground to Pavement to Hank Williams Sr. to Robert Johnson. As a music lover, I find it not only enjoyable, but practically imperative that I buy albums. I'm the kind of person that will buy an album just to have it because I love the artist that put it out. I've been known to buy albums that suck, just so that I can have one song by a group that I enjoy. Furthermore, regardless of Napster, I will continue to do this in the future. 

With that said, I only recently discovered Napster. I had heard about it from friends, but I wasn't able to access the Internet for a while, so it was only about four weeks ago that I first logged on. At first, I had some reservations about using the service because I was having my inner debate about whether or not it was theft, and whether or not it was fair to the artists, et cetera, et cetera. I decided to get online and check it out for myself to find out what all the commotion was about, and I was determined to make up my own mind about the service and not let the record company executives, or my friends, make up my mind for me. I tried to be as unbiased and open minded as possible in my exploration, and what follows is a brief synopsis of what I found, and my feelings on the subject. 

I went online, and I did use the service to download about thirty songs. However, all of these songs were by one group that happens to be one of my particular favorites, and all of the songs that I downloaded were 
songs that are not commercially available, either because they have long been out of print, or they are only available on live bootleg recordings that are impossible to find. If these songs were available for purchase, I would gladly fork over the money because that's the kind of freak that I am. I am so obsessive about music that I just like to have the album case to stare at, like a deer in the headlights or a cheerleader in chemistry class, I am content to just sit with a mindless expression on my face and smile as if I had just lobotomized myself, perhaps some of you can identify with my plight. 

I was very surprised by the availability of tracks that I had long heard rumors of, but which had always been as illusive as a big foot in the woods to me. In a relatively short time, I had completed, to the best of my knowledge, my collection, and I felt very satisfied. Since then, I haven't been on Napster, but I've thought about it a lot, especially in light of the recent controversy surrounding the service. I originally was of the opinion that the service should be closed because it was theft and it wasn't fair to the artists, but I've had a change of heart. 

My experience is that most people who use Napster only download one or two songs by an artist and discard the rest. They tend to have a random assortment of songs on their computers by artists that, in my opinion, have no business making as much money as they do to produce the crap that they put out. Hence, I really don't care what Napster does to the music industry, in fact I'm glad that Napster scares the music industry. Here's why.

Most of the music, if you can call it that, that you hear on the radio or television is boring and unimaginative. I'm sick of listening to boring, 
whiny punk bands rehash some movement that died out about two decades ago. Yes, you are about as annoying as disco cover bands, and no, you would not hurt my feelings if you were to disappear from the earth. I'm also sick of all this crappy metal/rap/violent I'm angry because I'm so bored and so privileged that I have nothing better to do music. Likewise, I can't seem to find the determination within myself to take my brain out of my head and flush it down the toilet, which is precisely what is necessary if I want to attempt to like little boy and girl bands, and I don't. 

Furthermore, if I have to listen to many more songs about how much money you have now and how many women you sleep with and how much of a bad ass in general you are set to a backdrop of generic synthesized bass beats and hip hop banality, I'm going to fall asleep at the wheel of my truck from boredom and crash, but believe me I will attempt to find a way to drive it straight into a radio tower so that hopefully my death could set some people somewhere free from the absolute boredom emitted daily on the air waves. Music is so boring today! I mean, can't artists come up with something new to say, can't we use our imaginations to interest people instead of bore them to death with the same old crap we've heard time and again since the dawn of time. Isn't it time to direct our energy into something productive rather than mouth off about how everything sucks, but offer no solutions to fix it. Aren't we a little sick of being angry for the sake of being angry. I believe that music is about revolution; it is about change. All music forms strive to always say something new in a way that no one has ever said it, but today's music doesn't do that. Have we become lazy, have we come to expect less, demand less? 

I personally think that it is due to several factors. The first being that the average American is stupid. I'm not saying that I'm much different. Unfortunately we live in a society where it is easy to sit around and be spoon-fed everything we know about our world from the 
television. Why would you expect more from the industry that sells you an image and not music, and that's truly what the problem is. We've lost our focus, it isn't about what an artist says anymore, but what he wears when he says it, or how many times we can see him say it on TV, or who he has to help him say it, not that there's really any substance to any of what's being said anyway. You know, music has always been about an attitude, but generally you had to have something to say in order for people to listen. 

Now though, TV has made us believe that we have to be obsessed with the image alone and as a result of our buying into this obsession, we've lost our interest in what is being said. "As long as I have the same clothes and attitude as the guy on the screen, I'll be all right because I'll be cool like everyone else." This is particularly funny since most of these groups preach independence and non conformity, as long as it's their thing I guess. Where has the quality gone? To be fair, there are some groups left that put out genuinely good material, but they are few and far between. It is a rare experience to go into a record store today and come home with a truly quality recording that you can listen to all the way through and not fall asleep or throw up. Most of the time the only good song, and I use the word good in the loosest possible sense, is the song you hear on the TV, that is if you're actually one of the rare few that is privileged enough to actually hear music on TV anymore. You have to be a narcoleptic or a masochist to actually be conscious during the times that you can catch music anymore, the rest of the scarce time that music is played you have to either have a strong self hatred in order to want to subject yourself to it or you have to stick your head in the microwave, turn the power on and cook your brain, bringing you to the necessary level to appreciate it. 

Hooray for Napster! Hooray for the slap in the face that says that we intelligent consumers will be fooled no longer by your mediocre crap! I'm glad that people don't have to pay for a rip-off; no longer do they feel obligated to line someone's pockets by shelling out twenty bucks for a seventeen cent piece of plastic with approximately 3.5 minutes of semi-quality material on it and a bunch of filler that I'm convinced has subliminal messages to make you stupid and overly self conscious about nothing. It is truly incredible that the very capitalistic system that has spawned such a horrible monster has potentially spawned its demise. HaHaHa! 

Death to crap rock! I guess it was only inevitable that if you make people such obsessive image conscious consumers, they would eventually seek the path of least resistance which allows them to fill this shallow need with the least amount of outside influence. We've taken the crap on the plate before us, filtered out the peanuts, liquefied the shit and intravenously mainlined it to our brains. And now the music industry cowers shaking in a corner, like so many bullies who've finally had their bluff called by someone with the gumption and the know-how to knock them on their asses, and we ask what next?

Well, I, for one, am very excited, because I believe that the door has been kicked off its hinges for the overwhelming return of music to the music industry. Maybe now artists will realize they can't fool us with flashy images anymore, because we've found a way to circumvent them in order to fulfill our need. Maybe there will actually be a resurrection of quality, and bands will actually try to produce material that is good through and through, rather than rest on the haunches of the one hit single that isn't going to make them millions by itself anymore. Maybe if the music industry as we know it dies, all of those people will just dry up and blow away. 

Music will stay though. Music has been around almost as long as man has walked the earth, and despite what they may try to sell you on TV, whether or not it comes in a flashy package, people will always have the urge to pick up an instrument and belt out a song, not because there's money to be made, but because they feel that it has to be said. "Well what about us?", the poor artists may say. "What's owed to us? We paid our dues, we need to make a living too." Well first of all, I don't feel that I owe you anything. Music is something that no one can own because everyone has the potential within them to create it. Yes some are better than others, but that is a question of talent, not ownership and it is very pompous of anyone to assume that I should owe them anything because they are better at it than me. I owe you nothing, yes you've provided me with memories and entertainment, and for that I am thankful, but without you, I'm sure I would survive somehow, so I don't owe you anything. 

And what about this price we put on talent, can we put a price on talent? Yes, I can, in fact we all can, you see, your function as an entertainer is essentially that of a public servant, you give us a service we desire and in return you are paid. However, as such, you are subject to the fickle interests and whims of the population you serve, and as consumers, we determine how much your service is worth to us. Don't make the mistake that many athletes and entertainers often fall prey to, and assume that because you have talent alone you are worth something. You are in business because people like us are willing to pay for you to be in business. The only person to whom talent is priceless is the person who possesses it. 

As for the "well I've paid my dues routine," spare me. You get paid to play an instrument. I play an instrument for fun because I find it relaxing, if someone would pay me ten dollars a week to do that I'd be happy. And as far as paying your dues, so you might have been hungry, you might have slept on the floor, welcome to the life of the average college student. You want to talk about paying your dues, you aren't scrubbing toilets or digging ditches or risking your life, but there are plenty of people out there who are, and they're shelling out their hard earned money to pay you so that you can sleep in a mansion and eat good food and have sex with anyone you want to. Ask any rock star if he'd want to trade places with those people and see what he says. You may have paid your dues and reached the promised land, but there are plenty of people out there paying their dues right now and they're never going to pay them off. They'll die paying their dues and paying your salary, so spare me the self righteousness. 

Maybe musicians will have to work for a change, maybe in order to enjoy the same lifestyle, they'll have to tour religiously. Don't feel bad for them though, I'm sure that the money they pull in on the average tour is a bit more than the average American makes for doing some real work. But let's not think negatively. Things have changed, that's a fact. Even if we shut down Napster, people have still seen the light and there will be more Napsters to come. Instead of wallowing in that, how about we look past it and say what now. How about we think of it in a different way. Why do we have to sell records? With the technology available today all 
you need to record an album is a computer. My friends and I have figured out how to do that, and we are by no means studio pros. I would think someone who has that kind of experience would have no problem assembling their product at home. Why do this? No production costs, just the up front expense of the equipment, and then you can make as many albums as you want with no studio, production or distribution costs. You could embrace the Internet instead of decrying it and release your album straight into the cyber world free of charge to the fans. What does this get you? Well the loyalty of your fans first and foremost. Second, it would give you the freedom to truly say whatever you wanted, however you wanted to say it, without some business minded executive telling you what will and won't be profitable. Then you can tour your ass off and still make a lot more money than most people do. Cut down on the expenses too, no fancy lights or pyrotechnics. Do we really need that to appreciate the music, or is that something you need to distract us from the music, or lack there of? Just you, an instrument, a stage, thousands of screaming fans and the music. 

Can't work? Why not, the Beatles and Elvis did it and they're still some of the most popular artists ever. But it doesn't end there. You can still merchandise your music with shirts and posters. Then you make the radio and TV stations pay you to play the music. This puts the pressure on the artist to produce good music because you want to have a hit, because you get paid every time it gets played. There's no room for flashy expense anymore, so boring music that relies on its image goes away, and as a result there is a booming resurgence in the music industry that once again plays, good music. With the demand to see and hear this music growing, TV and radio will be happy to pay the asking price because they need to in order to stay in business. You see if they don't pay you, you sue them on the grounds that since you offer your music free to the public, they must either do the same by not charging for advertising and services, which allow them to make money off of your efforts, or they must give you a cut of the profit which comes in this small, flat, reasonable fee. You get away with this because you are not charging for the music, but rather the privilege of other people charging for your music.

Finally there will always be freaks like me who want to own the album, just because they are sick that way, so you make the record companies bid on the rights to print your material. They pay for all associated costs, and you know why they'll do it? Because you no longer need them, they need you, and they know that they've got a sure thing to make money on or they can go out of business. 

Sure, you may not make as much money as you used to. But would that truly be a bad thing? Is money really all there is to life? You'll still be making a lot more than me and a lot of people like me, and you'll be producing quality material. When people remember you ten years from now it won't be as a joke, a "God, what were we thinking", but as something that truly made a difference. To top it off, you'll still have more loyal fans than I'll ever have. The revolution is coming, are you going to be driving the train, or trying to catch it as you're left behind. Ahhh, It is a good time to be a music lover. It is a bright future that faces us in the inevitable demise of the mindless crap we have been 
subjected to for so many years. It will not be easy or immediate, but nothing of quality ever is. Thank you Napster. 

note: Lucas T. Hanback is one wordy son of a bitch. But he's also a marine. So if you disagree with him on any of the above stuff, there's a chance he will come to your house and kill you. Lucas gave -RoG- a choice, "hang from your testicles or put this article up on your site". -RoG- believes he has chosen wisely.


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