A Napster-User's Confession

Okay, let's face it. While it is wildly popular with its users, Napster is getting some bad press pretty much everywhere, including ScowlZine. And while I don't disagree that artists SHOULD have control of their own music, I just wanted to provide some counterpoint to all this. Rather than getting into a discussion of the finer points contained in the Audio Home Recording Act or pointing out Metallica's hypocritical attitude, I'm simply going to recount a few instances in which Napster has had a positive effect on my life, and in a small way on the artists involved.

In all the griping and complaining that has gone on over Napster, the ones complaining the loudest (besides the money-mad record companies) are the established stars like Metallica and Dr. Dre. While I'm sure that artists such as these make up the lion's share of downloads, they are NOT what drew me to Napster in the first place. In fact, during my first month using Napster I doubt that more than 1% of the record-buying public even knew the songs I was looking for: stuff like Blotto's "I Wanna Be A Lifeguard", First Class' "Beach Baby", and The Silencer's "Remote Control/Too Illegal." These are songs that I remember from my childhood K-Tel LPs and the early days of MTV. Artists whose time in the sun was fleeting at best, and whose original recordings have long since disappeared from record store shelves. Now I ask you, is it better that these and other one-hit wonders (like Paper Lace's "The Night Chicago Died", Reunion's "Life Is A Rock", or The Kings' "Beat Goes On/Switch Into Glide") fade into obscurity, or be kept alive by the fans that still appreciate them? Were it not for Napster, more than likely I would seldom hear them ever again.

That's only the tip of the iceberg. Once I got over my initial "kid in a candy store" phase of downloading all my old, obscure faves, I went looking for more offbeat recordings. These I found in abundance by searching for cover tunes (1000 Mona Lisas' take on "You Oughta Know", and the hysterical homage to "Staying Alive" by Dweezil Zappa and Ozzy Osborne) that aren't exactly the sort of thing that your local Wal-Mart would carry. And medleys. Did you even KNOW there was a 20 minute compilation of Genesis and Phil Collins available? Of course not, unless you work as a DJ at a big-time metropolitan dance club. There are also remixes galore (the dance version of "Crazy Train" is a gem) and the "vs" type of mix that goes in and out of two dissimilar songs with often humorous results.

Speaking of humor, do you remember Dickie Goodman? He was sampling other artists work LONG before the Beastie Boys, and had a cult following among listeners of the Dr. Demento Show while "Weird Al" Yankovic was still in grade school! He's out on Napster too, and while I couldn't find "Energy Crisis '74", I did grab a copy of "Mr. Jaws". Great stuff. And while I'm talking about Dr. Demento, do you remember Meco? He's the guy who had his 15 minutes of fame doing synth sendups of the themes to "Close Encounters" and the original "Star Wars". He's out there too, hopefully giving younger listeners a glimpse into how things might have been if Moby or Fatboy Slim grew up in the age of disco.

Finally, how many times have you ever heard a band or bit of music on TV that you REALLY liked, but had no way of discovering whether anything else by the same artist was just as good? That happened to me during the Olympics closing ceremonies, or rather it ALMOST did. Sandwiched in amongst the standard Aussie fare (INXS, Midnight Oil, Men At Work, and Kylie Minogue) was an Aboriginal group called Yothu Yindi. They played a quick little set that featured lots of didgeridoos, and native chants mixed with contemporary instrumentation that I really liked. Now, if this had happened last year, I might have looked around in my local record stores for them, not found anything and given up. But luckily I had access to Napster, and discovered I REALLY liked this sort of thing. So while sampling a half dozen or so of the band's material, I set out on a SERIOUS search for the band's commercially available material, and by the time this goes to print, I hope to be the owner of Connecticut's largest collection of Yothu Yindi CDs.

The point I'm trying to make here is that for every Big Time Artist on Napster that's pissed off about losing royalties, there are another 10 that are happy for the exposure or for an unexpected day in the sun long after their careers have faded. And more often than not, I'm willing to bet that the people listening to these forgotten or undiscovered tracks are going out to BUY their material to hear more. So, in the end Napster may actually prove to be good for the industry, and not the great evil that the mainstream media proposes. So before you pass judgment, make sure you look at the issue from all sides. Sound advice indeed.