Download Machines | How Music Got Free: The End of an Industry, the Turn of the Century, and the Patient Zero of Piracy, by Stephen Richard Witt

How Music Got Free: The End of an Industry, the Turn of the Century, and the Patient Zero of Piracy
by Stephen Richard Witt
Published by Viking (2015) 
Rating: ****

Introduction

Music is a very important part of my life.  I’ve recounted my own personal history with audio forms, downloading and piracy here. I don’t download music anymore – not since Spotify and other streaming services came to India. These services have changed the way that I work in more ways than one. Finding a book that methodically recounted, and exposed a similar history was quite lovely.

Communicating Complexity

When I read non-fiction books that hone in on specific subjects, one of the things I look out for is how well they communicate complexity, or technical information that would not ordinarily be accessed by individuals. This book begins with the discovery of the MP3 format, the science that went into understanding the frequencies the human ear could hear and the compression that was used to produce the output necessary. My knowledge of this is relatively reasonable given my usage of audio production software and a few of my friendships, but what I particularly admired in this book was the kind of simplicity with which chains in a logical sequence of sentences were formed. The filler sentences, the ones that establish context and provide examples and analogies: those are the crucial pieces of information we latch onto in order to understand something better, and Witt does a great job of breaking down some barriers for us there.

Picking Narratives

I highlighted this in another review recently, but it was great to see three figures form such an integral part of this story: first, a researcher, second, someone within the industry, and finally, a pirate. Piracy provides access to a lot of information, but it’s also disrupted industries and forced companies and law to innovate mechanism to prevent the stifling of incentives to produce, or create. These three narratives provide a lot of relatable information and contextualize things to time, since there is now a reference point for when things in the book are taking place, or how they’re actually impacting people.

Conclusion

A book worth reading. The only thing I found disappointing within the book was the lack of discussion of the freely accessible, legal art that’s come out of compression. The Creative Commons license, under which Soundcloud, for example, helps artists protect a original content was almost non-existent throughout the book. This would have felt more complete had it discussed the subject, which I personally believe is an extremely integral part of what piracy has done.

The Books behind the Movie: Beautiful Boy

Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction
by David Sheff,
Published by Mariner Books (2007)
Rating: ****

Tweak: Growing up on Methamphetamines
by Nic Sheff
Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers (2008)
Rating: ***

I first heard about the Sheffs’ story when I saw the trailer for “Beautiful Boy”, starring Steve Carrell and Timothée Chalamet. The trailer had me hooked. I was intrigued by the father-son relationship, and when I found out that there were two books, one written by the father, and one by the son – allowing you to see two perspectives to the story in realtime, in first-person narration, I just had to read them. I read both back-to-back one evening, gripped by the experience, the grief, the love, and the story.

Nic Sheff writes about his own exposure to drugs and alcohol and becoming addicted to meth. David Sheff writes about watching his son getting exposed, and his own exposure to his son – when he was high, and the struggle in loving someone unconditionally. Nic’s own narration is factual, it reads the way an autobiography would – outlining anecdotes and emotional responses, with a lot of reflection about these instances. David’s narration is largely emotional – dealing with the anguish of conflict and confrontation with his own child, and feelings associated with uncertainty about his son’s whereabouts and activities.

These are gripping reads, both of them are. I admire their willingness to share this very, very personal story. David Sheff is a writer and journalist, and the writing flair comes across almost immediately, permeating through the book. Nic’s book, on the other hand is slightly less refined, in quite a few places. It would, however, be absurd to draw conclusions without reading both accounts of the same experience, which is what pushed me to get through the writing, in parts where I struggled.

After reading them, I watched the movie.

I think that’s when the impact of the books really hit me. This is a very real story. It’s people’s lives, told out – in their messy glory. I’m not an addict, and I’m not certain what kind of impact this kind of literature has on addicts themselves. But it’s someone’s personal account, and I think that’s valuable. For me, as a non-addict, it got me to grasp at how grave the issue can get, and the kind of conflict you might go through if you’re in close proximity with someone who suffers with addiction. It also taught me about the different kinds of rehabilitation processes that exist in response to addiction, and the kind of things one might go through while using those facilities and processes. It got me to understand addiction from a fresh perspective, which I’m grateful for.