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Amen to music file-sharing
Sea change of biblical proportions
by Mark Anderson

In certain circles they call me Reverend Napster. Can't argue, ardent apologist that I am for any service that provides electronic transfers of nearly any song I've ever – or never – heard.

It began as a musical question from a few devoted converts: "How come you don't use Napster?" Next was neighbor Dave, family man, about my vintage, between jobs and time on his side. Ran into each other out front. "I'm downloading the Beatles," he said, "A-to-Z. Never been their biggest fan, but everything's there for the taking. I just got hooked up to cable and songs come in faster than I can play 'em."

Hey, some hard-earned spare time had come my way, too. Plus a computer with 56K modem and CD burner. A whompin' new stereo, too.

And that, dear brethren, spells genesis …

And so it was. I headed straight for the Prince – extended versions and club mixes (my logistically challenged vinyl collection lives in a Minnesota basement) – and stumbled onto droves of stuff I never knew existed. A short trip from there to cover versions; live versions, too.

Meanwhile, I never knew Bjork, while with the Sugarcubes, recorded Gling-Glo, a torchy jazz LP for the Icelandic market – suddenly I own it! A festive Feliciano Christmas album I'd sought since the '70s – got that too!

In between I grabbed anything and everything I could think of, deleting songs that didn't do the trick. Sure, some transfers cut off. And a few had annoying blips when burned to CD and pushed through those serious new speakers. But that was a small percentage.

Only big problem was that danged 56K modem. Downloads took 20 to 40 minutes – or more. The sun came up during several sessions as my breadcrumb trail bounced from here to there and back. But sleep could wait. And I, on a mission, fervently collected novelty tunes for mom (Slim Gaillard's "Cement Mixer" was a real prize) and songs I remember my sister liking way back when.

Then, with head full of steam and CDs burned to the brim, home I went for the holidays. Family and friends marveled at my zeal – and my collection. Mom loved her disc. Sis showed more enthusiasm regarding anything other than her kid than I'd seen in years – she actually squealed! Was it the opening strains of the Grass Roots' "Temptation Eyes?" Neil Diamond's "Girl, You'll be a Woman Soon"? "Gypsy Woman," by Brian Hyland?

I don't remember and it might have been all three.

Me? Couldn't wait to get back to Portland and call for cable. I felt the power the very next day.

Charlie Parker, Dave Brubeck, Lester Young, Ben Webster. Peter Schilling's "Major Tom" -- hit version, German version, extended remix, too. Thirty Teddy Pendergrass songs abridged into one 80-minute dream disc. Joni Mitchell? Spearhead? Ed Kuepper? English Beat? Same. Soon, my hard drive held a thousand songs …

… We live amid a sea change of biblical proportions. The record companies, arrogant as ever, fell asleep while some college kids dreamed up Napster – the type of service the companies could have exploited instead of expecting their lawyers to stop.

Ever since Thomas Edison and the dawn of recording, the companies have pimped the public and ambushed the artists – lately to the tune of $17.99 per 25-cent plastic disc. Now entire catalogues are out there: Replacements, Nirvana, Sinatra, Elvis, Tori, PJ, Ani, Eminem. European artists with squiggles above their vowels.

And, at least for the moment, it's free!

Music file-sharing, along with state-of-the-art home recording and other evolving technology, may signal record-company obsolescence and create a smaller cash cow – with the behemoths aced out and artists splitting the lion's share from much more modest spoils. Instead of next-to-nothing from up-till-now's obscene pot of gold.

So far it's the tip of the iceberg. And some will always prefer store-bought music. But to see the big picture is to understand that the world will forever crave – and pay for – music. And file-sharing pushes toward something inevitable. Maybe artists will sell their songs to music-sharing services and we'll pay $4.99 or $9.99 a month for all the instant music we'd ever want (but don't make it too expensive or a black market will thrive).

Nevertheless, something huge is happening. I say hallelujah and amen.

E-mail Mark at andersonenterprises@hotmail.com, and visit prior editions of tripewriter.

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