Napster ten years on

Has it really been ten years? Napster was launched by 19-year-old Shawn Fanning on June 1, 1999 and his programming coup, which allowed users to find MP3 files digitally via the internet changed the face of music forever.

This development was particularly significant to our shared genre as it opened the doors to a movement that had for decades lurked somewhat in the shadows, and for that we remember Fanning’s achievement.

While record companies and no small number of musical artists may curse the day Fanning delivered his revolutionary code, it created a new world for certain alternative artists that would previously have needed to depend on word of mouth and a solid tour schedule that would carry them as far as their finances allowed. Suddenly people could access songs by any band, anywhere in the world, no matter the resources available to that band. It was a true democratization of the music business.

Now, too many people have used the opportunity to pirate (or steal, choose your verb) music as a result of this new technology (I am certainly guilty of this from time to time, though perhaps as a result of my age and generational framing, I buy my music unless it’s something I already own in  different format or if it’s something I simply can’t get through conventional music-buying channels, though even with those parameters it’s an increasingly slippery slope), and this has created a huge dilemma for recording artists trying to make a living at their art; this can disproportionally affect lower profile or emerging artists, of which many (most!) electronic artists would be considered, but this larger ethical debate is for another thread. For now we are here to celebrate a program that has allowed someone like me, locked in Nova Scotia to access music by artists like Thermostatic, Marsheaux, or Diffusion from Sweden, Greece, or Belarus, respectively. It’s a social world now, more than ever and Napster played its role in making it so. We think the music world is overall, the better for it.

While Napster didn’t last long into the oughts and its lifecycle was a lot shorter than its influence would suggest (killed at the alter of the legal system), we still feel and celebrate its legacy today, so Softsynth raises a glass to Mr. Fanning, ten years on.


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