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Sonic Boom: Inside The Raging Battle For The Soul Of Music [Hardcover]

John Alderman
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Aug. 8 2001
Digital compression technologies such as MP3 and Napster are having an explosive impact on the way music is distributed. Every day, hundreds of thousands of music files are searched for, shared, recorded, and listened to by computer and Web users-all free of charge. It's a boon for consumers and a disaster for record companies, and the end result can be nothing less than a cultural and economic transformation.Sonic Boom is a fascinating narrative of the controversy that's sending shock waves through the music industry. It's the story of musicians such as the Beastie Boys and Public Enemy, who are reaching fans without record company support; entrepreneurs who are distributing MP3 files without licensing agreements; and record-industry executives who are fighting for their business at every turn. It reveals how, even as the star-maker machinery of record companies remains in the hands of the old guard, innovators are finding ways to outsmart it. Peopled with a sensational cast of characters that includes rock stars, music moguls, teenagers, and Internet entrepreneurs, Sonic Boom exposes the recording industry's plight as a fascinating microcosm of the vast cultural, ethical, and legal issues that all industries face in the information age.

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Napster may or may not be a factor in the music scene of the future, but its extraordinary rise--and the attention it focused on the MP3 digital audio format--has ensured its status as a key figure in bringing this new type of sound recording to public consciousness. Sonic Boom, by veteran cyberjournalist John Alderman, cogently recounts the brief but tumultuous story that led up to this upstart song-trading exchange attracting 500,000 users each night--along with the wrath of the traditional recording industry. But Napster is hardly the entire story when it comes to the MP3 revolution, and Alderman is wise to focus significant attention on other important players. These include the Internet Underground Music Archive, an early Web site launched to help bands reach a wider audience;, whose domain name initially made it the central gathering point for online music fans; Liquid Audio and RealAudio, two of the first established efforts to facilitate sound transmittal over the Net; the Grateful Dead, Todd Rundgren, and Beastie Boys, a few of the independent-minded, techno-savvy musicians whose connection vastly boosted interest; and the Recording Industry Association of America, the old-line trade group that squeezed Napster and put its very future in question. Hardcore tune traders may not be interested in all the machinations Alderman describes, but those drawn to the business side of music and the Internet, as well as the debate over intellectual property rights in the electronic world, should find his account of the still-unfolding drama an engaging and illuminating read. --Howard Rothman

From Publishers Weekly

A compelling blend of cultural criticism and business writing (… la Tracy Kidder's The Soul of a New Machine), and the first full-length look at the revolution in listening to and trading music online, Alderman's detailed, unflaggingly entertaining book sets a dizzying standard. Notably well-versed in Internet history, Alderman tracks the music industry power struggles precipitated by the proliferation of MP3 technology and the infamous Napster. Alderman, a journalist with Wired and Mondo 2000 on his r‚sum‚, ably explains the controversy, from the encoding algorithms used by early online music pioneers, the legal battle between the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and Napster ("Being essentially a legal group, RIAA's concentration was on litigating and lawmaking, rather than research or development that might create new models") to the appeal and impact of online music ("The scale and enthusiasm of Napster use trumped all predictions that the online market was exaggerated"). Though Alderman clearly advocates Web trading "The bottom line is that musicians need listeners, and the Web is shaping up to be the best thing yet at connecting, organizing, and sometimes marketing to like-minded people" he challenges the music industry to "craft a solution that pays artists fairly, is not overly restrictive of fair use, and leaves the market open for broad tastes." More important, Alderman places the Napster phenomenon squarely within larger Internet history, observing that "[a]side from... e-mail, MP3 trading was the first large-scale benefit of using computers to connect everyone." This is required reading for anyone interested in the connection between culture and the Internet. (Sept.)Forecast: More Napster-style sites and lawsuits throughout 2001 will give this timely book a shot at sustained shelf life.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Only if you're genuinely interested.. May 7 2003
An excellent documentary of a tale that may initially conclude as the music industry's final straw with musicians and fans alike. Unfortunately, author John Alderman might have jumped the gun with timing the release of this book, because the war over 'all things MP3' is just now starting to heat up. With that being said, "Sonic Boom" is surely your best bet for research on music copyright and the conflict over its piracy. More importantly, however, this book explicitly warns the music industry about repeating mistakes of the past: ignoring technological advances, and the Internet's definite position in the future of music sales. It covers the twists and turns of the over-celebrated court case against Napster, while underlining how the collapse of traditional economics of the music industry was not completely inevitable. Alderman repeatedly returns to the notion that if different decisions had been made at particular moments, it might have been possible to preserve copyright within cyberspace. According to the author, the failure to create a virtual marketplace for selling music was a fatal error. Instead of using all their lobbying power and legal resources to attack the Net, the industry's corporate leaders should have been working out qualms in developing technologies, so that the fan and musician would prosper in today's rapid Internet growth. However, copyright laws were strengthened, Napster was prosecuted, and blocking software was developed to "kill" Peer2Peer sharing. Alderman argues that despite these triumphs, all these efforts only delay the inevitable.
Good book, quick read, and definitely a few years ahead of its time. As legal action against copyright infringement and Peer2Peer sharing heats up ($17,000 settlements among colleges and their students), intelligence of John Alderman's caliber is as necessary today as it has ever been.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Answer's Out There Somewhere Oct. 3 2002
While slightly outdated (mid-2001), and displaying some typos as well as Alderman's slightly scatterbrained writing style, this short but effective book is a telling report on how the world of music distribution is experiencing a true upheaval. Unfortunately, nurtured by the free-for-all of the internet revolution, the expectation that all music should be free led to the free file sharing services. File sharing is certainly a great way to stick it to the big companies that have unapologetically ripped of musicians and consumers for decades. But the problem is that artists deserve to be compensated for their music, so free file sharing is not the answer. The rash of lawsuits by the big corporations proved that they only have their own profiteering at heart, and their insistence that they are fighting for artists' rights is a farce. The highlight of this book is an excellent quote from online music pioneer John Barlow to close chapter 1: "The greatest constraint on future liberties may not come from government but from corporate legal departments laboring to protect by force what can no longer be protected by practical efficiency or general social consent." That is the angle from which Alderman writes this book. The big labels, through lawsuits and intimidation, refuse to face the fact that they may be toppled by a revolution and have reacted like any fading strong-arm dictator. As soon as someone figures out how to properly compensate the artists, all fans and musicians, as well as culture in general, will benefit beyond comprehension. Alderman doesn't pretend to know the answer, and nobody does anyway, but this book proves aptly that something dramatic is happening in the world of music.
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5.0 out of 5 stars BUY da Boom (bada bing)... Jan. 8 2002
I ordered this book when it was first released and it sat in a big pile of "future-reads" until months later. When I finally got around to picking it up I couldn't put it down. For someone who has closely followed the digital music revolution from the early days, it was more a trip down memory lane than anything but I definately learned some interesting tidbits along the way. Chronicling approximately a 4 year span of efforts from companies and characters from the pre-Napster days (Goodnoise and Liquid) to the post-Napster era (Gnutella and the peer-to-peer craze) and everything in between, this book is a quick and fun read. If you're into music and technology and have followed the bitter but inevitable marriage of the two, you'll enjoy this historical romp down memory lane.
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By A Customer
Thanks for writing this book. In so doing you have prevented me from having to... You have also confirmed my worst fear- that despite the hype, it's impossible to make this story interesting. It's hard to create empathy for people and companies who are driven solely by greed. The protagonists of the book are snakes among snakes... and I'm not talking about the record companies... I had the pleasure of meeting and working with most of the people you discuss- some are more benign than others, although you wouldn't want to see any of them come home with your daughter... Of course there is no and should be no sympathy for the nastiness that is the music industry... It's probably the book's only irony that one ends up feeling that maybe the industry dinosaurs have been mistreated...
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