Interview: Greg Kot of Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music (Part 2)


Kyle Bylin, Associate EditorRead Part 1 & Part 3 & Part 4

(Part 2 of 2) Your recent article Blockbuster era made Michael Jackson and consumed him reads almost like an epilogue to your already in-depth analysis in Ripped. 

Would you consider the mass-marketing successes that occurred during the CD-Boom a relatively short-lived phenomenon and, if so, why and what’s some of your reasoning behind that belief?

KOT JPegGreg Kot: Yes, I think the era of the mass-marketed mega artist is coming to an end. The multimedia companies that once dominated the star-maker discourse no longer monopolize how music is accessed. The culture for entertainment, as well as everything else for that matter, is fragmenting into niches facilitated by tools that enable us to find and communicate with people who have similar interests more efficiently and quickly than ever.

I do think the multimedia celebrities like Madonna, J-Lo, U2 will still exist in the domain of the multinational conglomerates, which are well-equipped to market and exploit such celebrities. They’re brilliant at selling product across multiple platforms on a large scale. But for the vast majority of artists, the notion of the big major-label deal will be an absurd artifact of the late 20th Century. It has no relevance to what they do or how they communicate with their audience. An artist won’t need to sign with a major to make a living, and the art will get a lot more interesting as a result.  

In Did You Know, it says that, “NTT Japan has successfully tested a fiber optic cable…  that pushed 14 trillion bits per second down a single stand of fiber.  That is 2,660 CDs every second.”  Couple that with Digital Renaissance’s Martin J. Thörnkvist who writes, “In five years a hard drive available to ordinary consumers will carry 35 TB of data. Data = music. 35 TB = 2.5 million songs."

What implications do you think these technological advances may have on ‘the file-sharing debate’ and, will the Record Industry ever be prepared for the trajectory of where things seem to be heading?

Greg Kot: The notion of being able to download any song at any time anywhere is soon going to be a reality and it will pretty much change the game irrevocably. Artists and copyright holders will have to relinquish control of their work as soon as it’s released. So will recorded music be free? Not necessarily. What if Steve Jobs had to share profits from the iPod with copyright holders?  Similarly, the developers of the portable systems designed to access music in the future will/should share the wealth for the music/movies/media content they access.

Just because artists give up control of their art doesn’t mean they should relinquish being compensated for it. The price has to be fair. In return fans should be able to get any music they want whenever they want, with top quality sound. It could be a win-win for artists and fans, and a new industry could develop around that relationship to facilitate it through instant, high-quality downloads, with some sort of service fee imposed on the hardware/software used to access the music.

Authors Palfrey and Gasser argue in Born Digital that, “Digital Natives will move markets and transform industries, education, and global politics.  The changes they bring about as they move into the workforce could have an immensely positive effect on the world we live it.”

In what ways do you think the ‘Wired Generation’ will continue to revolutionize music and do they have the potential to create culture in which we will all be operating in the future?

Greg Kot: Absolutely. The fundamental change is this: Consumers are no longer just a marketing demographic, a faceless entity to which corporations market and sell products. They’re becoming collaborators, co-conspirators, creative partners with the artists they love. That intimacy is the key to remaking the world. All great artists over time have had their benefactors and patrons. The Internet makes it possible for a creative talent to have more of them than ever, on a potentially global scale.

A Black Swan, as described by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, is a highly improbable event with three principal characteristics: It is unpredictable; it carries a massive impact; and, after the fact, we concoct an explanation that makes it appear less random, and more predictable, than it was.

Seeing as the Music Industry has succumbed to its fair share of Black Swans over the last decade, do you feel like the ten years hold the same fate?

Greg Kot: I think the impact of the most recent Black Swan invasion will still be playing itself out in 10 years. The way music is being made, manufactured, marketed, distributed and consumed is already in the midst of a radical change. We’re not sure how it’s all going to play out, but we’re heading there — fast. I bet the music industry as we now know it is going to be quite a bit different in 2019.   

Read Part 1 & Part 3 & Part 4

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  1. History is made not by the protagonists, but by the interpreters. It takes the perspective of one person to organize the facts and shine the light from a particular angle to highlight truths and lessons. Greg Kot has a perspective on the fall of the Industry of Music that manages to be respectful and informative. It resonates with a wisdom that if you listen to your gut, you hear the truth of it. We musicians are riding the foam of the tidal wave and the only surfboard in site is our own gut and an awareness of our authentic tone. Kyle, you have nailed it again with this interview.

  2. Awesome Kyle, I really dig your interview style. Greg’s book was a great read, and it was excellent to be reminded of his work again.
    This quote, taken out of context, is worth further discussion: “All great artists over time have had their benefactors and patrons. The Internet makes it possible for a creative talent to have more of them than ever, on a potentially global scale.”

  3. Kyle–Thanks so much for this. I now want to go purchase Greg’s book. And I will share this info with the indies I am trying to give a helping hand to. Some of the indies I work with have had the good fortune of benefactors and patrons, however, with anyone and everyone having the capability of writing, recording, releasing, and promoting their own music, I fear the competition is now more competitive for niche artists. It may come down to which artists have the time, energy, and stamina to do the massive social networking, etc. As a veteran music educator, I also fear that the bar has been lowered. Do consumers really know what IS good music? Or is that “in the ear of the beholder”?

  4. ” Do consumers really know what IS good music? Or is that “in the ear of the
    beholder”?” I wonder about that everyday. And, your welcome Glory, it was
    really neat to talk to Greg. Also, you’ll love the book, he does plenty of
    blending of music critic and music business theory.

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