Henry Jenkins has a great essay in Technology Review about downloading old music. Go read it, if you have a subscription to TR (and you should). If not, he begins by talking about how he gave his wife a copy of Mac Davis’ “My Bestest Friend” as a Christmas present in 1981, how it became their song, and then they didn’t hear it for a decade after their phonograph needle broke. (Yes, I know what you’re thinking: Mac Davis? But suspend judgment, says the man whose most recent downloads include a song from the Little River Band. We all have those glass houses that get built around breakdowns in our normally razor-sharp critical sensibilities.)
The key grafs:
To understand the difference between Napster and iTunes, one has to go back to “My Bestest Friend.” Seen from the producers perspective, Napster represented only depreciationa destruction of the value of their investments in creating new intellectual property. Yet consumers also produce value in musicthrough their sentimental investments and social interactions. We didnt just like “Bestest Friend”; we appreciated itthat is, we increased its value and prolonged its lifespan. Mac Daviss song remained meaningful to my wife and me long after it had passed out of radio rotation. iTunes is about music as commodity; Napster was about music as mutual experience. iTunes is about cheap downloads; Napster was about file sharingwith sharing the key word….
I dont think I ever downloaded a current hit [on Napster]. Most of what I accessed were songs and artists that the record companies had probably forgotten altogether. The glory of Napster was that I could discover eccentric and forgotten artists, people like the 1950s Peruvian lounge singer Yma Sumac, or the 1940s jazz composer Raymond Scott….
Using Napster was less like going to a well-ordered and well-stocked chain store and more like rummaging through the dust-covered bins at a used record shop. A lot of what you downloaded was scratchy or warped, but sometimes, you found a real gem…. By comparison, iTunes is antiseptic and impersonallike shopping in a mall record shop at midnight when nobody else is around.
His criticism of the Apple Music Store offers an illuminating counter to my enthusiasm for it, especially since I think I use AMS the way he used Napster: as a kind of time machine to get copies of songs we haven’t heard for years and years.
Now, is the RIAA going to go after him, I wonder? Sounds like a dangerous man to me….