I just recently finished reading the book, Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music. I’m kind of mad at myself for waiting so long to read it. It’s been in the “to read” pile for a long time and I just got around to reading it. It’s a fantastic look at the evolution of music over the past 20 years or so. From the rise of indie bands like Death Cab for Cutie and Bright Eyes, to Prince’s record label, to mp3’s and the “pay what you want” model introduced by Radiohead and NineInch Nail’s Trent Reznor.
I can’t honestly say that I remember much about my 7th grade history class. I couldn’t even tell you my teacher’s name, let alone what we “learned” that year. The one thing that I do remember is that there was a banner hanging above the chalk board. It read, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
If you are going to be a musician today, then you need to understand how the music industry has changed so that you can try to figure out where it’s headed. Sure it’s great to know about the writers in Tin Pan Alley from the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s; it’s important to understand radio’s role in the emergence of popular music and how payola controlled that; it’s important to know that the first video ever aired on MTV was The Buggle’s “Video Killed The Radio Star” (seriously think about that for a minute).
In the last 20 years, the music industry has changed more than it has in nearly its entire existence. Or, certainly in this century. The current music industry that we operate in is still changing at a rapid pace. There’s speculation on the extinction of CD’s within 2-3 years, there’s been a major resurgence in vinyl (who saw that coming?!), the major record labels as we knew them may cease to exist within 5 years, mp3’s and file sharing are now a good thing and a major source of world-wide distribution (what?!).
Greg Kott’s “Ripped” is one of the most fascinating books on current music history I’ve ever read. He jumps right in with the first chapter about the major consolidation that all of the big 5 (at that time there were 5 major record labels, as opposed to the 2 1/2 there are now). This was a huge shift in the record industry at the time. It scared a lot of artists and put a lot of people out of work.
Greg does a great job in detailing the consolidation of the majors, the rise of indie bands, the fight against and for sampling on hip-hip records and new mashup records and artists, Prince’s record label and his do-it-yourself approach, the rise of mp3’s and the fall of Napster and the “pay what you want” model that Radiohead started with “In Rainbows,” that Trent Renzor “improved” upon.
I don’t want to give too much away, because I want you to be able to enjoy this book. It isan enjoyable book. It discusses in detail the many things that have happened over the past two decades that have changed the face of the music industry dramatically.
You can read each chapter as a vignette about each band or person or aspect of the industry. But when taken as a whole, “Ripped” reads more like a cautionary tale with a hopeful ending.
“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”