We don’t know if it’s at all ironic that we might review this book on a blog or not, but we’re not going to let that stop us. Greg Kot is a real journalist and a real music critic, and there is something to be said for that. He writes for the Chicago Tribune and hosts Sound Opinions, a weekly rock ‘n roll talk show available by podcast and on many NPR stations (but unfortunately not our own WABE).
His latest book, Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music
(Scribner 2009), is a detailed, authoritative, well-presented chronicle of the forces that have shaped the music industry over the past decade. Clearly complied in part from his previous coverage of many of the stories that have shaped that period, Ripped covers the origins of downloading, the impact of sampling, and the influence of blogs (not us in particular, but in general). Kot deftly weaves his prior work together with new perspectives to address the transition from tangible music to digital sound though distribution, litigation, promotion and ultimately creation.
Kot is at his best when he details the varied reactions to this paradigm shift by different artists. Metallica fought the shift with over-priced attorneys and unabashed arrogance. Greg Gillis, as Girl Talk, co-opted the sampling controversy so fully that he made himself unassailable to challenge. Conor Oberst just kept making records and playing in front of people until he simply couldn’t be ignored.
Ripped explains how technology transformed the music business from an industry focused on the sale of tangible property to one completely lost and often clueless in its search for a modern profit principle. More interesting though, is the underlying argument about the transformation of the artists who understand the modern model better than the industry. Obviously Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails have redefined what it means to be an independent artist, but Kot suggests that savvy lesser known acts can now take control of their careers through digital publishing, smart touring, and and little buzz from the blogosphere.
This is the best and most thought-provoking book about music that we have read in some time. If you have any interest in this topic, you should pick up this book. However, as the subtitle suggests, a music revolution is afoot and as far as we’re concerned it isn’t ever yet. If you want an idea of where it might end up then you need to bump this book up to required reading and get it now.