Stephen Witt

Author of How Music Got Free

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON October 05, 2015

Discussion

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Stephen Witt
@stephenwitt · Author
I am the author of How Music Got Free, a narrative history of the music piracy revolution. My book tells the story of the brilliant scientists who invented the mp3, the music executives who tried to quash it, and the secret conspiracy of pirates who set it free. An excerpt from my book, describing the exploits of Dell Glover, who leaked more than 2,000 CDs from a North Carolina factory, appeared in the New Yorker in April. Ask me anything!
Kate
@katesegrin · Community @ Product Hunt
How do you feel about artists like Taylor Swift and Tool holding out of streaming on Spotify because they’re not paid enough?
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Stephen Witt
@stephenwitt · Author
@katesegrin I can't blame them. I have no desire to put my own work on similar publishing streaming services, like Oyster. The economics are so lousy that I'd actually prefer to see my work pirated. Spotify in particular has problems because of their ad-supported streaming tier. Something like 75% percent of their listeners belong to it, but they generate only 10% of the royalty revenue. They've got to come up with a solution, quickly, or more artists will revolt. But the biggest culprit is Youtube.
Kate
@katesegrin · Community @ Product Hunt
@stephenwitt what would make you prefer being pirated? Is it the concept that you're "worth pirating", or something else?
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Stephen Witt
@stephenwitt · Author
@katesegrin Pretty much. l like being pirated. It makes me feel valued. Someone had to go seek out my work and download it, at some risk. Being streamed, by contrast, would make me feel like just another face in the line-up.
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Ryan Hoover
@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
What music services do you use, Stephen? I'm a big fan of Spotify and Hype Machine in particular. I can't remember the last time I purchased music.
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Stephen Witt
@stephenwitt · Author
@rrhoover I subscribed to Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer and Tidal simultaneously for market research purposes. I ended up staying with Spotify, just because I was comfortable with their interface. On the rare occasions they don't have something I want—a rarity, a big name artist, or a leak—I torrent it from what.cd
Abhijith
@abhijithcu90 · Co-Founder, Tenory
@stephenwitt Do you think streaming will be mainstream in the next 5 to 10 years?
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Stephen Witt
@stephenwitt · Author
@abhijithcu90 It's already mainstream for video. Music will follow. This is absolutely the format of the future. Once you subscribe to a streaming service it's very hard to go back to the download model—even if you were downloading for free!
Russ Frushtick
@russfrushtick
What's the biggest challenge with getting a book published today?
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Stephen Witt
@stephenwitt · Author
@russfrushtick Here's a poorly-kept secret: publishing budgets have actually expanded over the past five years. This is an excellent time to be pitching a book project—sales are very healthy, and books haven't faced the same problems as the movie or music industries. That means it's up to the author. The biggest problem facing most first-time writers are, in order of increasing likelihood: 1. They haven't identified who their audience is, 2. They haven't identified what other works they are in dialog with, and, the big one, 3. They aren't talented enough.
jordne
@jordne
do you see yourself producing content besides books: also do you think content and marketing are becoming undistinguishable or has it always been like that
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Stephen Witt
@stephenwitt · Author
@jordne I've done about 85 radio interviews now, and am comfortable on the air. Also, if you've spent time in person with me, you'll know how much I like the sound of my own voice. Maybe a podcast... The content and marketing question is a good one. Music in particular has never been more explicitly about marketing products and image. There is sonic innovation happening certainly—today's producers are brilliant—but this is being employed cynically, to present bland commercial images, drained of longer-term cultural potential. That said, I think a lot of contemporary pop, R&B, and rap will end up being timeless, just because of the newness of the sound.
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Stephen Witt
@stephenwitt · Author
@stephenwitt @jordne Thinking a bit more about this, the marketing often ends up being *more* important than the content. If you read magazines from 50 years ago, you'll usually be more interested in the ads than the articles. Advertising forms the backdrop of all cultural discourse. It saturates everything, in the same way that religious iconography did in 15th-century Europe.
Kate
@katesegrin · Community @ Product Hunt
What originally got you into writing, and what keeps you hooked?
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Stephen Witt
@stephenwitt · Author
@katesegrin My dad was a journalist, and my sister, Emily Witt, is also a writer. (Her first book, Future Sex, will be published next year.) So I grew up around it... Even so, there was a long period where I worked in another field. It wasn't until the age of 30 that I really decided that I needed to be a writer, when I realized I couldn't look at spreadsheets anymore. What keeps me going is the desire to win big literary prizes. I do this for the hardware.
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Andrew Ettinger
@andrewett · Product Marketing, Twitter (ex-PH)
What do you admire about pirates? Is there any other industry you could see them "disrupting"?
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Stephen Witt
@stephenwitt · Author
@andrewmettinger The music industry was really reluctant to embrace the potential of the Internet. They were married to the concept of the $15 compact disc. The pirates—mostly teenaged boys— built an entire distribution network from scratch to get around them. They basically forced the recording industry into the modern era. If they hadn't done so, we'd probably still be trapped in the much more costly and inefficient model of physical retail, with big music players like Sony and Universal collecting unfair rents from the consumer. Piracy has undeniably spurred innovation, both in the mobile device space and in modern content distribution. It was illegal, sure, but it was a massive boom for the consumer.
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Stephen Witt
@stephenwitt · Author
@andrewmettinger As far as other industries, I think less so. The rightsholders and the technologists are now co-operating, turning computing devices away from production and into consumption. The modern smartphone is more locked up than the PC of old—you can't get away with as much. To me, it often feels like little more than a sales kiosk. The biggest risk going forward isn't pirates—it's leakers like Dell Glover, who I wrote about, or hackers. Look at Sony.
Barron Roth
@iambarronroth · Product at Blade
As a music pirate, do you think there will ever be a point in the future where I, and others like me, will no longer be able to acquire music for free?
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Stephen Witt
@stephenwitt · Author
@iambarronroth No. There will always be a shadow distribution network of some kind, just as there will always, even under the most repressive conditions, be a marketplace for illegal drugs. However, it's undeniably harder than it used to be, and I think we're in the process of seeing piracy pushed to the sidelines. The newer generation doesn't do it like we did.
Barron Roth
@iambarronroth · Product at Blade
@stephenwitt I'd agree. A lot of my peers ask me how I still manage to pirate. There's certainly no longer a Limewire or Napster to facilitate any of it.
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Andrew Ettinger
@andrewett · Product Marketing, Twitter (ex-PH)
Wait - just saw your tweet - what should I write on my Tinder profile? "Instagram: @arianagrande" was mine for a while and it was well received. If I come out of retirement, I'm gonna need something better than that.
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Stephen Witt
@stephenwitt · Author
@andrewmettinger I wrote "I'm a fiend for mojitos" and got a bunch of swipes. Your age group might not get the joke though
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Stephen Witt
@stephenwitt · Author
@andrewmettinger Still, all of the Internet pick-up artists agree that the best way to get girls is to write a book about digital audio compression
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Andrew Ettinger
@andrewett · Product Marketing, Twitter (ex-PH)
@stephenwitt 😂😂😂 👌👌👌