It's hard to imagine how rich, decadent and some would say corrupt, the record business was in the 80s. Then again, “Morning in America”, the slogan that got Ronald Reagan elected President in 1984 might have been “Party Night in America.” This was the era of Wall Street gazillionaires, cocaine, Madonna and hair metal bands.
And the record business symbolized it all, with its immense profits, private jets, trashed hotel rooms, and overall scandalous behaviour. At its height, the business was selling a hundred million dollars worth of product, worldwide – every day. There was no end to the ride.
Until there was.
Out of nowhere, it seemed, in 1999, one kid with one computer program he had developed for his friends to allow them to share mp3 files, brought down an entire business. And not just any business, but one of the most powerful and most profitable businesses in the world. And when Shawn Fanning and Napster entered the ring, the record companies behaved like bulls enraged by the tiny pricks of the picador's spears. They bellowed their outrage, charged their tormentors repeatedly (except, unlike the bulls, used lawyers to register their charges), and did everything they could to restore their rightful place in the natural order.
The only thing they didn't do was end (or even dent, truth be told) illegal downloading or convince their customers they were anything but spoiled brats unwilling to enter a world transformed by a new technology – even though their business had been created by just such a disruptive technology a hundred years earlier.
"The Ecstasy and the Agony" – the record business of the '80s and '90s – this week's episode of Twilight of the Gods.
-Robert Harris is the producer of Twilight of the Gods
http://music.cbc.ca/play/Inside-the-Music/Twilight-of-the-Gods-4Listen to Inside the Music on Radio 2 on Sunday 3 p.m. (3:30 NT) and Radio One on Sunday 9 p.m. (9:30 NT)
Twilight of the Gods part one: the dawn of the recording industry
Twilight of the Gods part two: the birth of jazz and country
Twilight of the Gods part three: the '60s and '70s change everything
Napster closes up shop in Canada
At the business end of the 1990s music industry
Joni Mitchell quits "corrupt cesspool"
on Jul 20, 2012