Wednesday, January 27, 2010


There are a lot of books out there that are only for a small group of readers. For example, Special Providence is absolutely essential for anyone interested in foreign policy, but would not be worth much to people uninterested. Greg Kot's Ripped is similar. Kot is a music critic for the Chicago Tribune and this most recent book is about the transformation of the music business over the past 15 or so years. The emphasis here is on business, how music is sold, bought and consumed. If that interests you, pick up this book.

The book consists mostly of case studies that illustrate a change in how music gets to consumers. The book takes you from the years of high priced, crappy CDs up to the time of self released price tiered packages from the likes of Trent Reznor. You learn about how payola works and how the consolidation of radio stations into a few national companies created the terrible pap we have today. Kot details the impact of digitization, from Napster to Kazaa to the Ipod.

At one level,the book is about the transfer of power from a small group of record companies to the consumer and to the individual artist. As the book explains, artists tend not to make much money from record sales. They get paid by touring. It is now much easier for both new bands and for established bands to get their music into the hands of listeners. The hope is that they will be more likely to attend the next show. Consumers now have access to many more ways of getting music.

Kot's story isn't one of simple triumph though. The story of Pitchfork is shaded gray. It certainly shed light on worthy new bands, but Kot also argues it sheds light too early. Pitchfork heavily promoted Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, a band whose live performances were not ready for prime time. In the past, bands learned to perform in smaller venues and built both reputations and skills. In the case of CYHSY, Pitchfork drove up excitement and watched as they crashed and burned in the attention.

While a number of genres are represented, what could be called indie, or simply less commercial rock predominates. There is hip hop here too, but not that much. All in all, a solid, entertaining and informative read.

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