Sunday, June 04, 2000

My introduction to Napster

By Larry Nager
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        My look at the record industry's oncoming apocalypse came courtesy of my personal futurist (and son), Alex Nager, 15.

        Like hundreds of thousands of other Web-savvy music lovers, he has been a dedicated Napster member since last winter, downloading his current favorite songs.

        In the past few weeks, the Napster site has been the subject of dozens of lawsuits relating to copyright infringement, even as its membership soars. It seemed like a good idea to see what the fuss was about. With my teen-age guide, I downloaded Napster from the Internet, registered and entered the site.

        Searching for a song is fairly easy, you simply enter the artist's name or the song title in the prompt, and with a click of your mouse, the results are listed on your screen. Find the song you want, click on it and it downloads onto your computer hard drive. Download time is subject to the limitations of your computer and the one from which you're downloading.

        Because you can't carry your PC around, a portable MP3 player is a necessity. Basically a cross between a hard-drive and a Walkman, it stores songs from Napster or other MP3 sites and plays them back into headphones or other sources.

        As Napster's popularity explodes, it seems likely the sheer numbers using the site could cause slowdowns. With a reported growth rate of as much as 25 percent daily, you can watch Napster getting bigger.

        Signing on at 4:30 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon, we found 5,542 other members online, according to the prompt at the lower right-hand corner of the screen. A total of 627,831 song files were available.

        When we signed off 30 minutes later, there were 6,387 members online, for a total of 708,707 available songs.         Because Napster was created by a teen-age male, it's not surprising that most of Napster's members are teen-age males — Metallica's primary audience.

        Despite Metallica's lawsuit against Napster, when I looked more than 100 songs by the band were ready for downloading, a process that simply requires a couple of clicks of your mouse.

        Plenty of teen-age girls are looking for music online as well, and the Napster site has loads of Britney Spears and 'NSync MP3s, along with the latest released (and often unreleased) material by the hottest rock and rap acts, including Matchbox Twenty, Kid Rock, Eminem and Limp Bizkit.

        That's not all you'll find. The songlist is in constant flux, but as the membership grows, it's getting harder to stump Napster, even with older, fairly obscure songs.

        Billy Lee Riley's rockabilly classic, “Flying Saucers Rock 'n' Roll”; Charlie Parker's bebop manifesto “Ornithology”; Marvin Gaye's seduction anthem, “Let's Get It On”; Bill Monroe's bluegrass mandolin masterwork, “Rawhide” — all could be had in pristine digital form with just a click of a mouse, and all were offered several times from different members. “Let's Get It On” was offered 16 times.         In this data-saturated age, Napster is a dream come true for fiscally challenged, music obsessives of any age.

        At a time when radio playlists have gotten more and more narrow, Napster musical offerings are as wide as the membership signed on at any given time.

        “I think that it's spreading the music just like radio did,” says Alex, who not long ago recorded songs from the radio on his boombox. He believes CDs aren't in immediate danger.

        “There's something about having a CD and sticking it into your portable CD player or stereo,” he says. “(Napster) is a whole different experience. You don't get the cover, you don't get the lyrics (on liner notes).”

        Alex also doesn't see anything wrong with it.

        “I know the record companies don't like it,” he says. “But I download a lot of mainstream stuff. I hear a song once, and I'll download it for a few days. I'd still buy the CD.”

        But the cost of CDs remains a problem for many, particularly those whose music budget comes from baby-sitting or mowing lawns.

        “Prices for CDs are so expensive, it's nice to have it,” Alex says of Napster. “You buy a CD for like one or two songs and the rest of them aren't good, you've wasted a lot of money right there.”

        With Napster, you get only what you want and pretty much anything you want. And you get it with less work than it takes to play computer Solitaire. No wonder the record business is worried.

Name that tune - Napster's got it
    Metallica-Napster flap is like a broken record
-     My introduction to Napster
    Napster's busy year
    What you need

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