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How Music Got Free: The End of an Industry, the Turn of the Century, and the Patient Zero of Piracy Hardcover – Jun 16 2015

4.6 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Viking (June 16 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0525426612
  • ISBN-13: 978-0525426615
  • Product Dimensions: 15.7 x 2.7 x 23.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 658 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #20,758 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


“The richest explanation to date about how the arrival of the MP3 upended almost everything about how music is distributed, consumed and stored. It’s a story you may think you know, but Mr. Witt brings fresh reporting to bear, and complicates things in terrific ways. . . . [How Music Got Free] has the clear writing and brisk reportorial acumen of a Michael Lewis book.”
—Dwight Garner, The New York Times

“Taut, cleareyed. . . . Witt, a first-time author, comes from the world of finance, and his old-fashioned, connect-the-dots reporting presents a nuanced depiction of an issue usually reduced to emotional absolutes. . . . [A] complex, groundbreaking story.”
—The New York Times Book Review

“[W]hip-smart, superbly reported and indispensable.”
—The Washington Post

“A lucid, mordantly funny account of the rise of digital music piracy, starting with the story of a worker in a North Carolina CD-pressing plant who personally leaked more than 2,000 albums over eight years.”
Time magazine 

“Witt’s book is more than just a simple history — or defense — of file sharing, a development most people associate with Napster, but which, according to Witt, involved a much more wide-ranging—and fascinating—story.”
—The Seattle Times

“A must-read on the rise of privacy. . . . Suspenseful, entertaining. . . . Essential reading for all students of the music business.”

“Incredible, possibly canonical. . . . A story that's too bizarre to make up, but needed to be told. . . . Even if you're not a music geek, How Music Got Free is one of the most gripping investigative books of the year.”

How Music Got Free doubles as a detailed ode to the MP3 as it tells the story of three men grappling with digital compression technology and its widespread fallout. . . . According to Witt’s account, these three relatively unknown figures spurred on the tectonic shifts within the music industry over the last few decades and changed how we listen to and consider music today. . . . How Music Got Free tells of supreme innovation as well as stubborn hard-headedness, and though its trio of principle characters never actually cross paths in real life, it’s tempting to consider what would have happened if they did, what crises may have been avoided.”

“The story of the music industry’s epic struggle with the technological developments that swiftly and irrevocably changed it forever. . . . Recounted by Witt with the clarity and momentum of any fictional page-turner.”
The Fader

Witt uncovers the largely untold stories of people like the German entrepreneurs who invented the mp3 file and Dell Glover, the compact disc factory worker who leaked some of the biggest albums of the aughts, leaving record label execs frustrated and scared.
—Business Insider

“Brilliantly written. . . . Fascinating. . . . Highly entertaining. . . . Full of surprises.”
The Guardian

“An enthralling account of how technology has turned the music business upside down . . . This is a terrific, timely, informative book.”
—Nick Hornby, The Sunday Times (UK)

“Compelling . . . . An accomplished first book.”
The Economist
“[Witt] organizes his narrative around alternating chapters that each focus on a separate protagonist: an engineer, an executive, and a criminal: Universal chairman Doug Morris and two nemeses Morris didn’t even know he had: German engineer Karlheinz Brandenburg, and music pirate Dell Glover, a Polygram/Universal employee at the Tennessee CD manufacturing plant.”
—The Daily Beast

How Music Got Free is the result of five years of tunnel-vision focus on the history of digital music.”
The Village Voice

“[An] excellent history of the MP3 and its effect on the recording industry. . . . An essential read for musicians.”
—John Colpitts, The Talkhouse

“The riveting story of post-millennial technology, piracy, and corporate futility.”
—Los Angeles Review of Books

“A captivating new book that unearths the story of mp3s, pirates and a recalcitrant music business.”
—Lincoln Journal Star

“[A] fascinating account of the rise of music piracy. . . . An engrossing story. . . . The year's most important music book.”
The Independent (UK)

“A virtuosic, briskly readable account of when the music industry was briefly, seemingly, brought to its knees. . . . There's a lot to learn from the music business' antagonistic relationship with the technology that defined it, and Witt lays it all out on the page.”
The Portland Mercury

“The story of how the Internet brought the imperious music business to its knees has never been told more succinctly and readably than it is here. . . . How Music Got Free cries out for a movie treatment like The Social Network.”

“A fascinating peek behind the scenes of a worldwide cultural phenomenon that blew apart the music business structure while at the same time creating a new one in which no one company holds all the cards (though a few of them still hold plenty). . . . An engaging account of how the music industry had to change in order to survive, thanks to the efforts of a few technologically savvy people from diverse backgrounds.”
—Shelf Awareness for Readers

“A riveting detective story . . . Witt’s exposé of the business of mainstream music will intrigue fans and critics of pop culture and anyone who has bought a compact disc, downloaded an MP3, or used a streaming music service.”
Library Journal  

“A propulsive and fascinating portrait of the people who helped upend an industry and challenge how music and media are consumed.”
—Kirkus Reviews

“Like Bond meets 28 Days Later . . . Witt tells a thrilling tale, with a cast of music biz bigwigs, painstaking German boffins, and pirates and petty thieves. Witt’s writing reminded me of all my favourite modern essayists: Remnick, Franzen and John Jeremiah Sullivan. I loved it.”
—Colin Greenwood, Radiohead
How Music Got Free is as much a story about greed, friendship, genius and stupidity as it is about music piracy. And it tells an amazing story of a part of the Internet (not to mention the criminal underground) that I took for granted.  I burned through it--you will too.”
—Christian Rudder, author of Dataclysm

About the Author

Stephen Witt was born in New Hampshire in 1979 and raised in the Midwest. He graduated from the University of Chicago with a degree in mathematics in 2001. He spent the next six years playing the stock market, working for hedge funds in Chicago and New York. Following a two-year stint in East Africa working in economic development, he graduated from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in 2011. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition
An interesting subject and stories and a easy read.

The book is divided into 20 chapters. It follows three separate distinct story lines with each chapter alternating telling each story.

- The story of German researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute who invented the MP2/MP3/AAC encoding formats and their fight with Phillips and MUSICAM.
- The story of music bootleggers in the Internet age and how and why they leaked music releases and built up large music repositories of illegal MP3s.
And the story of the second half of the career of music executive Doug Morris and his tenure at Warner and Universal.

I found WItt's writing was well paced and concise except for a few parts where he deviates from trying to tell the stories and delves into his own personal music preferences (so he doesn't like Lindsay Lohan's music or her Herbie movie and thinks Lil Wayne is much more potent creative force than her -- that's understandable because he isn't a 12 year old girl -- but it doesn't add anything to the three stories or the characters he is focusing on).

Other than that, the book was a good read.

(Revised review)
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I really enjoyed this book. A non-fiction thriller that I looked forward to resuming when I - we - already know how it ends. I especially enjoyed the author's sense of humour. I'll be keeping an eye out for his next book.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A very good read. Funny,not too technical, very informative. If you are a fan of music you have to read this book. Ever wonder why kids don't buy cd's anymore? Read the book.....
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Good read with some insightful thinking. I think it will take a little more research to see where my thoughts lie but all in all a good read.
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