Digital downloads, the death of quality in music

June 1999 marked the launch of the first ever user-to-user, online file-sharing program, known to the public as Napster. The technology that co-creators Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker employed sparked an Internet revolution and changed how the world acquired it’s music, stirring up quite a controversy by infringing on numerous copyright laws.

This program that allowed for easy theft of intellectual property was eventually shut down in 2001. However, with 25 million users at its peak, the fire had already been started, and to this day, imitator programs are still quite popular.

An article by Dan Sabbagh in The Sunday Times reported some findings of a recent study conducted by The University of Hertfordshire on the rise of illegally obtained music. Sabbagh says the average teenager’s digital music player contains 800 illegally copied tracks. “The average digital music player carries 1,770 songs, meaning that 48 percent of the collection is copied illegally. The proportion of illegally downloaded tracks rises to 61 percent among 14 to 17-year-olds. In addition, 14 percent of CDs (one in seven) in a young person’s collection are copied,” Sabbagh writes.

We want our music and we want it now! Although, I suppose if we’re not really paying for it, can we even demand quality?

Going back even further, in the past 15 years, I can’t think of one band or artist that has left any real impact on the music industry and there hasn’t been anything close to any sort of “musical revolution.”

In 1969, the Grammy Award for best R&B Performance went to Aretha Franklin. In 2010, the Grammy for Best R&B Performance By a Group went to Jamie Foxx and T-Pain for “Blame it on the Alcohol.”  The first award for Best Rock Album went to The Rolling Stones. The 2010 award for the same title went to Green Day. Clearly, you can see where the standards of music are going.

Sure, there have been fads and crazes but the aspect of originality amongst today’s biggest stars is a lack-luster excuse for each band simply being a carbon copy of the next.

Think about it like this: A good majority of the music that our parents’ loved is still on the radio today. Elvis, The Beatles and Led Zeppelin completely defined what rock ‘n’ roll was.

Jim Morrison and The Doors made parents fear for the lives of their children if they were even allowed to go see them live.

When did the “art” get removed from “artist?” Do you really think when our children and our children’s children turn on the “oldies” stations that they’ll be listening to Lil Wayne or Drake or, even worse, The Black Eyed Peas?

Those guys don’t even write their own music. Musicians of today are so worried that if they take a few years off to really craft a great album, they’ll lose the limelight and be forgotten, forever being reduced to the “Where Are They Now?” VH1 specials.

Even hip-hop, probably the last big change of thought in music has gone by the wayside with the use of auto-tune and the ability to record and distribute music at the consumer level — anybody can be a “rock star” and everyone sounds exactly the same.

No longer do kids start garage bands because they want to “fight to power” or have some serious, Cobain-esque teenage angst desperately in need of a medium to channel it; simply put, they want to be celebrities.

Kids like Justin Bieber and The Jonas Brothers get coached from infancy on how they’ll dress, act, sing and do whatever it takes to be marketable. The whole passion thing ­— that’s just a side note.

Perhaps these sentiments that I hold are simply the musically snobby, snarky opinions of a former scene kid who spent a good majority of his formative years staying up late listening to Dad’s music collection or frequenting the local shows more often than most.

However, I’d like to think that the convictions in my words hold some truth and at the very least will resonate with others who are displeased with the music of today.

Contact Ben at bkarris@asu.edu