Thursday, July 16, 2015

Book Review: How Music Got Free

Now on sale at all your favorite book stores and online sources is How Music Got Free: the End of an Industry, the Turn of the Century, and the Patient Zero of Piracy. It is a non-fiction look at the music industry over the past few decades and how things have shifted from CDs to digital.
Its author is Stephen Witt, a math major turned journalist with a very strong interest in music.

The book tells the perfect storm of technology, music moguls, obsession and crime. It follows the revolutionary developer of the mp3 format Kalheinz Brandenburg, a powerful music industry executive Doug Morris, the leaker of new CD releases Dell Glover, and OiNK (the Internet music repository four times larger than the iTunes store) founder Alan Ellis. These four diverse stories are woven together in an interesting narrative that kept this reader turning the pages (I read it in just three nights which is lightning speed for me with a book).

If you are like me and enjoy music, you will definitely want to give this book a look.

You can find more from the author at his website: and follow him on Twitter @stephenwitt.


HERC said...

Thanks for the review, Martin.

I had been very eager to read this book (though I disagree with the author's choice of a title) since reading a lengthy excerpt featuring Dell Glover ("the patient zero of piracy" in the book's title) that appeared in the April 27th issue of New Yorker magazine. Fortunately, a friend let me borrow their dead-tree-free copy and I devoured it on the iPad in about three days. Have never been a fan of Doug Morris and the book did nothing to change my assessment of the man. Interesting origin story of the .mp3 format for a tech geek like myself and had I known about OiNK at the time it existed, I feel like I would have been a devoted contributor and supporter.

The writing style, weaving four stories together, seemed somewhat clunky at first but soon a rhythm developed or maybe it was just my growing desire to see how everything was gonna end that propelled me on. The narrative style reminded me of the historical works of Erik Larson who has published five highly researched non-fiction books over the past sixteen years. I highly recommend all five:

Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair That Changed America

(defies my descriptive abilities - partly about invention of radio)

In The Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

Mark said...

Started this book earlier this week and while the writing isn't great, it's good enough to get the info across. Reminded me of the year 2000 when I was a Napster junkie. Ah, good times.

I work in an industry (higher education) that, like the music business, has weakly tried to adapt to the availability of free data on the internet (e.g., why would I pay tuition for Mandarin courses when I could get free lessons via YouTube?). That parallel added another dimension to the book for this reader.

I'd rather listen to vinyl or my CDs, but mp3 files sure are handy.