I’m 27, which I’m sharing with you because when I was an early internet user in the late 90s and early 2000s there was a strong strain of tech-utopian ideology that seeped into many parts of how people conceived certain aspects of the internet. The heyday of torrents and illegal downloads made it seem like once something appeared on the internet, it’d remain in some easily duplicable copy format forever. However, now in 2019, that vision of the internet is slowly crumbling and in certain spaces, it’s already gone.
The criminalization of media piracy and the slow suppression of file-sharing and more recently audio-ripping sites only heightens just how the seemingly endless supply of illicit media was never quite that permanent. Thus, when MySpace finally admitted that its own archive was lost, no public campaigns were launched, no billionaire or superstar artist offered to save the music. Nope, a decade worth of mainstream and underground culture simply evaporated, as music fans were forced to accept that only multi-national corporations could be their ultimate gatekeepers of a readily available musical canon.
Contemporary music streaming services aren’t meticulous histories of recorded music, but rather a partial history of recorded music with the intent for profit. This is an undercurrent that Joseph Ohegyi, a musician and writer, touches on in Rhyming Guitar,
a zine that he released earlier this year, which dives into a number of albums that never quite made the proper transition from vinyl to CD or from CD to streaming. He opens the zine by detailing the convoluted recording and release history of Kraftwerk’s Trans-Europe Express
The modern listener is unable to compare the differences and decide their preference. Their choice is simply mediated by what the artist or record company desire they hear. In the case of Trans-Europe Express, they choose not only the modern remastering, but the English-language version of the album, and display an album cover that is entirely different from the original. These revisions have become the “identity” of the album for many listeners, and remain unchallenged in the marketplace.
What music piracy offered throughout the 2000s was an option to find all of these differing versions of songs and albums as if to say all of these different versions were worth giving a listen, as they represented different points of reproduction. Yet, a decade-plus of litigation sued most of these ecosystems out of existence and in some instances specific people were targeted with the full weight of the music industry as a strong arm measure to say, “don’t you dare go into those waters.” The destruction of illegal music distribution platforms and the ongoing battles that happen with song-ripping websites today are ultimately a concerted effort by private multinational companies and state governments to crush out the ability for a non-commercial musical archive to exist. Musical knowledge, rather than building upon each successive generation, instead limits itself by simply reproducing what can or is expected to generate revenue.
That’s why it oddly felt so normal to read about MySpace losing millions of songs. The consolidation of digital music in the 2010s leads to these moments, where older platforms decay and fall away without any real desire to sustain them once they’ve lost the relentless competition for listeners. If there ever were an art form that should exist without bending to the whims of market pressures, it’d be nice to imagine that to be a medium of air vibrations. Perhaps that’s utopian, so for now enjoy the streaming service of your choosing until we wake up and realize that there are no other options.