Here’s What We Lost with Streaming

Back when MP3-infested music blogs became popular, we had content and context

Paul Cantor
Oct 27, 2016 · 4 min read in August 2006 | Source

I have been searching wide and far for a series of recordings that I’m certain, were this six or seven years ago, I’d have no trouble finding with a simple Google search.

Back then, any number of music blogs featured download links to songs and albums, DJ mixes, sometimes an artist’s whole catalogue — but now, while the webpages are still active, the links to the music are not.

I’d be inclined to suggest this music could be found on streaming sites — and might even try looking for it — yet I know it’s a waste of time. What I’m looking for, specifically, are bootleg tapes that in some cases survived for twenty, thirty, forty years, before some thoughtful person digitized them.

Unless Spotify or Apple Music open themselves up to user-generated content, these bootlegs will never be online ever again.

Which is sad. You land on an abandoned music blog — all dead links, YouTube clips no longer available, low-res pictures snatched from Google Images — it’s enough to put a tear in your eye.

But don’t tell the music business that.

“The nearly 20-year depression in the music business is finally over,” says an article recently published in the Wall Street Journal. According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, global music sales grew 3.2% last year.

3.2%! — shit, let’s break out the champagne.

Look, all kidding aside, anyone who knows knows, the music industry has been “back” for a while now. It’s not exactly the 90s again, but the money is definitely flowing and flowing fast.

In fact, the average mid-tier act is putting away more money in 2016 than they were twenty years ago. It’s just that money doesn’t go very far these days — in New York, a million dollars is basically… a dollar.

So, the money is back, and yes, with streaming and YouTube — let’s not forget YouTube, which does more for music than probably anything else — there is a lot of energy in this space. Most importantly though, music seems to be in a good place creatively (although many of you, predictably, will say things were better “back in the day”).

And yet — yet! — I can’t help but pine for the days of yore. I subscribe to three streaming services that, for better or worse, have the same exact music and do the same exact shit. So nobody can tell me I’m not supporting the business. But I still feel file-sharing has a purpose.

For one, files are the go-to format for DJs; I don’t need to explain how important DJ’s are. Pulselocker, which you can use with Serato, allows DJs to mix with streaming files— but reviews have been mixed and I’ve never seen anyone use it.

And files are the go-to format for people who share music that isn’t widely-available — records only in limited release; demos; bootlegs; live recordings. In short, anything not officially sanctioned by a record label.

People always shared this stuff, but in the old days, it might have happened through cassettes or burned CDs, passed from one hand to the next. In the Napster era, you downloaded it.

But then, when MP3-infested music blogs became popular, things really got interesting. Because now you had the music, but you also had commentary. You had content and context. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

I say this because, theoretically, nobody directly involved with the music itself was making any money from this stuff. What made things worse was that, eventually, many blogs began selling ads against this content. So, they were profiting at the expense of the people whose music they claimed to love so much.

But when it was good, it was really good. Some of these blogs catered to very small niches, trafficking in music that wouldn’t make any money regardless of whether it was being sold or not. Putting it up for free was doing the artist a favor — through that, people discovered them.

Now, I don’t know where that exists anymore. Maybe all these fans and file-sharers have migrated to Facebook or Reddit, and they’re trading in some closed ecosystem, where the long arm of internet law can no longer see them. Which would be smart.

Until I can figure out where they are though, I will remain sad about a short-lived period when the internet was the wild west, and free music was everywhere.

It was a music nerd’s paradise. A paradise lost.

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