Appetite for Self-Destruction : The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age
For the first time, Appetite for Self-Destruction recounts the epic story of the precipitous rise and fall of the recording industry over the past three decades, when the incredible success of the CD turned the music business into one of the most glamorous, high-profile industries in the world -- and the advent of file sharing brought it to its knees. In a comprehensive, fast-paced account full of larger-than-life personalities, Rolling Stone contributing editor Steve Knopper shows that, after the incredible wealth and excess of the '80s and '90s, Sony, Warner, and the other big players brought about their own downfall through years of denial and bad decisions in the face of dramatic advances in technology.
Big Music has been asleep at the wheel ever since Napster revolutionized the way music was distributed in the 1990s. Now, because powerful people like Doug Morris and Tommy Mottola failed to recognize the incredible potential of file-sharing technology, the labels are in danger of becoming completely obsolete. Knopper, who has been writing about the industry for more than ten years, has unparalleled access to those intimately involved in the music world's highs and lows. Based on interviews with more than two hundred music industry sources -- from Warner Music chairman Edgar Bronfman Jr. to renegade Napster creator Shawn Fanning -- Knopper is the first to offer such a detailed and sweeping contemporary history of the industry's wild ride through the past three decades. From the birth of the compact disc, through the explosion of CD sales in the '80s and '90s, the emergence of Napster, and the secret talks that led to iTunes, to the current collapse of the industry as CD salesplummet, Knopper takes us inside the boardrooms, recording studios, private estates, garage computer labs, company jets, corporate infighting, and secret deals of the big names and behind-the-scenes players who made it all happen.
With unforgettable portraits of the music world's mighty and formerly mighty; detailed accounts of both brilliant and stupid ideas brought to fruition or left on the cutting-room floor; the dish on backroom schemes, negotiations, and brawls; and several previously unreported stories, Appetite for Self-Destruction is a riveting, informative, and highly entertaining read. It offers a broad perspective on the current state of Big Music, how it got into these dire straits, and where it's going from here -- and a cautionary tale for the digital age.
In this ambitious look at the music industry's digital revolution, freelance music writer Knopper admirably attempts to make sense of more than three decades of fitful technological innovation and ego clashes. The story begins with the antidisco rallies of the late 1970s, spends a great deal of time on the excesses of the CD era (with an unnecessary detour into the nefarious business dealings of boy band manager Lou Pearlman), then chronicles the reign of Napster and its eventual usurpation by Apple's legal iTunes service. Knopper is at his best giving life to the tales of technological innovation and diligent salesmanship that fueled these shifts in consumer trends, as in the story of the CD's invention and the subsequent difficulty of persuading label executives to adopt the new format. The later tales of backroom deals featuring Steve Jobs and various label heads have the spark of real drama, but this is undermined by Knopper not having access to Jobs and by the historical proximity of the events. (Jan.)
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January 05, 2009
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Excerpt from Appetite for Self-Destruction by Steve Knopper
Prologue1979-1982Disco Crashes the Record Business, Michael Jackson Saves the Day, and MTV Really Saves the DayOne manalmost destroyed the music industry in the late '70s.His name was Steve Dahl, and he was a roundish Chicago rock disc jockey with huge glasses and a shaggy bowl cut. In a maniacally nasal voice, he pioneered shock radio with his outrageous stunts. Once, during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, he made random on-air calls to Iran and savagely mocked the first person with a foreign accent to answer. But the WLUP-FM DJ didn't find widespread recognition until he started smashing Donna Summer records in the studio, calling to arms a crazed group of followers he dubbed the Insane Coho Lips.Dahl's hatred for disco ran deep and personal. He had taken a long road to his first Chicago job, dropping out of high school at age sixteen to work at an underground station near his home in La Cañada, California. He scored a few DJ gigs and married a young woman who'd called one night to request Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne." Naturally, they divorced. But when he was nineteen, less than a year after they'd split up, Dahl sat in his Subaru in front of her house, waiting all night for her to come out. This was the 1970s, so rather than having him arrested for stalking, she used personal connections to land him a morning-show job at a struggling station as far away as possible, in Detroit.Almost overnight, Dahl turned his new station's ratings around. Big-time Chicago rock stations came calling, and Dahl accepted a job at WDAI, where he worked until it abruptly switched formats in 1978, dropping Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones and transforming into "Disco 'DAI." Pictures of the Village People started appearing in its promo ads. Dahl, a rock guy, had no choice but to quit. He accepted a morning-show job at another Chicago rock station, WLUP."I was just mad at my previous employer," the now-white-haired, still-Hawaiian-shirt-wearing Dahl says. "And Midwesterners didn't want that intimidating [disco] lifestyle shoved down their throats." The antidisco campaign became the centerpiece of Dahl's morning show with cohost Garry Meier. They invited listeners to call in with their most hated disco songs; after airing a snippet, Dahl and Meier would drag the needle across the record and queue the sound of an explosion. The show was wildly popular. When the duo offered membership cards to a kill-disco organization, ten thousand listeners called the station within a week to sign up. Dahl took the show on the road, packing a suburban Chicago nightclub with a "death to disco" rally. But what was so intimidating about people dancing in nightclubs? Why did rock fans in Chicago hate disco so much?Because itsucked. That's why.The songs, the dancing, the roller-skating, the disco balls, the heavy makeup -- it was all so massive, so goofy, and over the top. Andy Warhol, Studio 54,Skatetown, USA, "Disco Duck" -- people were getting sick of this stuff. Besides, in order to make it with a lady, during the disco craze, a guy had tolearn how to dance. And wear a fancy suit! It was an outrage. (It's also possible these rock fans hated disco because black and gay people liked it, although nobody talked about that in public.) Whatever the reason, the backlash was inevitable. Disco needed to be destroyed, and Dahl appointed himself the pied piper for this enraged crowd. He found a compatriot in twenty-eight-year-old Mike Veeck, a failed rock guitarist. "I loathed disco," Veeck said later.Veeck happened to have an excellent forum for what would become the decisive event in Dahl's campaign: Comiskey Park, home of the Chicago White Sox. He was the son of then-Sox owner Bill Veeck, a seventy-five-year-old baseball legend. (When he owned the Cleveland Indians, the elder Veeck made Larry Doby the first black player in the American League.) With his father's permission, M