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independent music on the internet?
It is no wonder that the most mainstream of today's recording artists would balk when their collective works began to show up on Napster and similar music-sharing Web sites. Why should Kid Rock or Dr. Dre even have to bother thinking about turning a profit from a "new medium" -- the Internet -- when their corporate record labels are already assuring such stars financial security and continued success by commandeering those media outlets with proven track records - TV and radio.
Ask Elektra Records' Metallica, one of music-sharing's most prominent opponents, and they might tell you Napster was put to sleep because it gave music fans an unrestricted, unregulated means of sharing the band's "art" without the band's permission. This scenario sounds humorously familiar to that which nearly "destroyed the music industry" in the early 1980's: Tape-trading.
Before Metallica made it big, the band relied on word-of-mouth to draw new fans to the band's live shows. Without major record label support, the band received virtually no radio airplay. If it were not for rampant tape-trading -- the process by which one Metallica fan would illegally make a cassette copy of his Metallica record to give to a friend -- the band probably would not have gained enough popularity to attract attention from a major label. In 1982, a kid from Arkansas could not just walk into Wal-Mart or a record store in the mall to purchase the new Metallica album. So, in turn, Metallica encouraged tape-trading to reach this otherwise unattainable audience. Likewise, many of today's unknown independent artists turn to the Internet to expose a potentially infinite, international audience to the music.
When MP3.com's founders purchased their domain name, they knew MP3 technology was going to be big, but they were not sure how to profit from it. At first, the site was a file-sharing free-for-all for its users. That site was soon quashed and what replaced it is one of the more inspiring independent music sites on the Internet. The site enables obscure musicians representing all genres to upload as much of their music as they like. The site's users are then able to download the music to their own computers free of charge. If users really like what they hear, they can purchase a hard copy of the artist's CD from MP3.com. For unsigned, unknown acts, MP3.com serves as a place for an artist sell his or her work or to at least "get the word out."
While most of MP3.com's artists tend not to be found on current file-sharing sites such as Morpheus or AudioGalaxy (they're too obscure), the names of many artists signed to independent record labels do show up. For such professionals, Napster-type sites are more likely to boost sales, even if such sites encourage some users not do any buying. The Internet has become the average music fan's only way to find out about non-mainstream music. For example, for every three people who illegally download and enjoy music by Neutral Milk Hotel (Merge Records / Chapel Hill, NC), perhaps only one of those people will physically purchase the band's CD or record. Regardless, the band has exposed themselves to three new people who would have never otherwise of the group on commercial radio or MTV. From Dr. Dre's perspective, Dre is not in need of extra Internet exposure since anyone downloading his music on the Internet has probably already heard of him.
It is disputable how much money starving artists like Kid Rock have lost as a result of Internet file-sharing. What is now indisputable is that independent record labels are booming. This has resulted from a combination of the aforementioned file-sharing methods along with indie label Web sites that do a good job at promoting their artists from the grass roots level. While college radio does an admirable job at promoting independent music, most people do not live in towns with good college radio stations. Without the Internet, the independent music market would not be growing exponentially and the name-recognition of large acts on independent labels like Saves the Day or Tortoise would not be soaring.
The damage file-sharing and the Internet in general has done to major label artists is negligible at best. On the whole, the Internet has enabled thousands of independent musicians and indie record label heads to quit their day jobs and to focus on the music (and the Internet marketing of that music).