Books

Appetite for Self-Destruction by Steve Knopper

Richard Hellinga

Relying on exhaustive research, Knopper vividly depicts a greedy and hubris-filled industry that was repeatedly warned of the shifting landscape but only began to adjust far too late.


Appetite for Self-Destruction

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Subtitle: The Rise and Fall of the Record Industry in the Digital Age
Author: Steve Knopper
Price: $26.00
Length: 320
Formats: Hardcover
ISBN: 9781416552154
US publication date: 2009-01
Amazon

If you had even a minuscule amount of sympathy for the declining fortunes of the big record companies like Sony BMG, Warner, Universal, and EMI, it will be gone by the time you finish reading Steve Knopper’s Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age. Knopper traces the history of the last 30 years of the music business; beginning with Disco Demolition Night marking the end of the disco era, and continuing through Michael Jackson’s blockbuster album Thriller, to MTV, to the switch from LPs to CDs, to the battles over Napster and Kazaa, to the dominance of iTunes, and ending with bands such as Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails experimenting with selling music directly to fans.

Much of the recent history has been written about before. What sets Knopper’s book apart is his extensive research. Through countless interviews with people inside and outside the music industry, he’s able to provide an immense amount of depth and detail. This makes Knopper’s book essential reading if you want to understand exactly how the juggernaut record labels got to their ever-diminishing current state.

With every change in the industry, from disco to the introduction of the CD, record labels had previously been able to adjust (with some cost) and continue to make lots of money. Labels profited handsomely for the better part of a decade and a half, selling CDs for $15 to $18. In the process of shifting from LPs to CDs, record companies had killed the single. Music lovers had to buy an entire album in order to get the two or three songs they wanted.

When CD sales started to decline and the war over Napster began, record companies were not about to change their way of doing business. This obstinacy remained even as new media people had already found ways to use the Internet to promote bands and sell music.

Syd Schwartz was one such new media executive at independent label Wind-Up Records. He built

a successful Internet marketing campaign for the rock band Creed in 1997 -- the band released a free online single via several retailer and radio websites...Word spread, radio picked up on the Internet buzz, and the band would go on to sell 24 million albums. But when Schwartz moved up in the world, taking a similar job at EMI, he quickly realized corporate policy prevented him from doing anything remotely close to the Creed campaign. “I remember, one of my first days of work, being sat down by a senior executive who shall remain nameless and being told that MP3s are the tool of the pirate.”

It would be this stubborn refusal to attempt to harness the Internet and the MP3 format for too long that would lead record labels to cede control over the digital domain. When they finally signed on with Apple’s iTunes store in 2002, they still feared piracy above all else. But by forcing Apple to use digital rights management (DRM) for the music files sold at the iTunes store, the record companies would inadvertently lock iTunes users into iPod music players.

[T]hanks to Fairplay, somebody who bought a Microsoft Zune or a Creative Labs Zen couldn’t buy or store music on iTunes and transfer it to the foreign player. European regulators complained that [Steve] Jobs was using this scheme to corner the digital music market unfairly. Jobs responded by blaming the labels. He posted an 1,800-word manifesto on apple.com, arguing for a music world free of DRM.

Apple’s share of the digital music market has been estimated to be at 85 percnet in late 2008 (Apple defeats music rate hike, Devin Leonard, CNN Money, October 2, 2008). Meanwhile, CD sales continue to fall at double-digit rates (Report: 17 million people stopped buying CDs in 2008, David Chartier, ars technica, 18 March 2009).

Knopper doesn’t take pleasure in the labels’ fall. Instead he vividly depicts a greedy and hubris-filled industry that was repeatedly warned of the shifting landscape but only began to adjust far too late. If there’s a lesson in all this it’s that traditional media have not adapted to the ongoing revolution in content-delivery brought by the Internet.

8

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.


20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta


Keep reading... Show less

It's just past noon on a Tuesday, somewhere in Massachusetts and Eric Earley sounds tired.

Since 2003, Earley's band, Blitzen Trapper, have combined folk, rock and whatever else is lying around to create music that manages to be both enigmatic and accessible. Since their breakthrough album Furr released in 2008 on Sub Pop, the band has achieved critical acclaim and moderate success, but they're still some distance away from enjoying the champagne lifestyle.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image