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[whitespace] 'Crtl+Alt+Delete' Tech history is still being made, as revealed in Anthony Clarvoe's play, 'Crtl+Alt+Delete.'


Written by Winners

'Sonic Boom' charts the historic rise of file-sharing and its impact on the music business

By Gina Arnold

HISTORY, WE ARE TOLD, is written by the winners. If that's the case, then Sonic Boom: Napster, MP3, and the New Pioneers of Music (Perseus Press), the new book by John Alderman, is an especially valuable document, as the outcome of the battle between record companies and technology to decide who controls the distribution of music has not yet been revealed. True, companies like Napster and MP3.com have essentially gone down already, victims of legal losses and plummeting stock prices respectively. But file-sharing is still alive and well and cutting into the profits of record stores and record companies in numbers too big to ignore. It's the opposite of the Special Olympics. No one is a winner, at least not yet; and the fact that this is a story that is still ongoing is both the book's strength and its weakness.

On the one hand, Alderman, a writer for Wired, has captured the early days of file-sharing--and the businesses that attempted to cash in on it--quite admirably. He sums up the issues involved in a few deft chapters, stating the obvious with a minimum amount of fuss: "Almost all recently commercially released music has been digitally recorded, or at the very least, mastered. To go to the trouble of actually pressing a song's date onto a CD, when there are faster, more efficient ways of distributing the ones and zeroes, is increasingly anachronistic."

On the other hand, without a clear resolution to the file-sharing conundrum, it really seems too early for a history like this to be written. As with the new Anthony Clarvoe play Ctrl+Alt+Delete, which recently finished its world-premiere run in San Jose, there is something unfulfilling about seeing or hearing or, in this case, reading a "take" on the crazy economic roller-coaster of the last few years. It's really hard to assess what's occurred in this area--the housing prices, the rich kids, the SUVs, the stock boom, the dotcom slump and so on--at its true worth, since the fallout is still raining down.

Sonic Boom does suffer from the supreme unsexiness of the topic of technology. This is a problem with many articles I've read in Wired, Business 2.0 and elsewhere: Although the topic is ostensibly music, and should be of interest to those interested in music, it invariably degenerates into computer jargon that makes for dull prose. It helps if, like me, you have a visual image of many of the players involved--Michael Robertson, head of MP3.com, Gerry Kearny, head of Liquid Audio, and so on--and Alderman does his darndest to give us a thumbnail sketch of each of them, but it's still hard to tell them apart.

One other thing strikes me as wrong about Alderman's position. Sonic Boom takes the position that file-sharing is the single most important development in the history of music and technology, and that may well be so. But to me, the great irony of the MP3 revolution is that it really has had so little effect on rock music, that it occurs in a world that's entirely separate from the real world of creating music. You know: rock bands still have to lug their equipment from gig to gig, assemble their drum sets, practice every night in a crummy little practice space, write their songs in whatever place they go to write. People still have to go to the same dank nightclubs to see them, still hear them on the radio, still watch MTV and choose and buy records, whether it's on Amazon.com or in a store. And until that changes, the more things will stay the same.

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From the January 3-9, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2002 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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