Some thoughts on the end of Napster

The bane of the music business is no more, never mind that the damage it caused is irreparable.

In the coming days and weeks, there should be a lot of arm chair quarterbacking from bands over the news that Napster was purchased by Rhapsody, and is kaput, but again, what Napster brought upon the music biz can’t be undone.

Guitar World reported the news, reminding us that Best Buy snapped up the company in 2008 for $121 million.

Of course no one needs to be reminded of the war Metallica waged against Napster in court, and in principal the band was right, but the heavy handed way they went about it alienated many of their fans.

Napster was a company that epitomized the age of entitlement, where many young people feel everything should be handed to them.

Still, what I’ve found especially unfortunate is how much people didn’t give back to the bands. There were never any rules set in stone when I traded music on audio cassette, and concerts on VHS, but in the metal underground, there was an unwritten rule that you were there to spread the word about a band, not to exploit them, and you should give back to the bands by buying the albums, and going to gigs, as much as you could.


Before the Napster suit, Metallica permitted their fans to record concerts, much like the Grateful Dead allowed their fans, who had to have all the  bootlegs they could get their hands on, but still bought their albums, concert tickets, and t-shirts. (Metallica are big bootleg collectors of their favorite bands as well).


And before there ever was a Napster, reggae archivist Roger Steffens had rules of trading that it all had to be for free, no one was to exploit or make money off the artists by selling live shows, and if they were caught doing that, they weren’t allowed to trade within Roger’s circle. Eventually Steffens shut down all music trading, “and it’s really a shame because it was a lot of fun,” he says. “It was done for the love of music and not for any kind of monetary considerations.”


As far as traders having rules and regulations, Steffens says, “I don’t know who really has the right to make rules. It’s more a question of ethics and morality. Ask yourself if what you’re doing is right and proper.” 

Of course, what Steffens and long time metal trader KJ Doughton both agree on is we’ve turned a corner with people taking music for free, so things will never be the same again. Where tape trading helped built foundations for bands and spread the word about them, now downloading music for free has taken away their livelihoods.


Doughton certainly had mixed feelings about it, as he told MadeLoud, “I think underground traders were a big part of Metallica’s success. At the time, there was no Internet, no file sharing, no YouTube. Only snail mail. Big labels hated metal. So what other alternative was there? I enjoy access to music online, but can understand bands’s frustrations with so many free ways people can get to their material without them being reimbursed. As Lips stated in Anvil: The Movie, ‘We’re not getting paid!’


“I don’t think there could ever be a new underground comparable to the eighties tape trading scene,” Doughton continues. “It’s a whole new thing now. There’s very little  allegiance to  the same bands or genres, and  people have lower attention spans now. They quickly gravitate from band to band, and there’s less inclination  to follow a few favored bands throughout a long career. Think back to bands like Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Metallica, Aerosmith, and Kiss. Fans maintained loyalty for decades, and still do with those bands who currently continue. It’s more disposable now.”