Thieves and Pirates

Nick Heer tells the story of Spotify and Apple Music’s predecessors:

In 2019, paid subscriptions brought in nearly $6 billion dollars in the U.S. and, for the first time, consumed over half of all spending in the country.

But paid streaming services are not the product of record industry brilliance. In fact, the most clear lineage can be traced back to websites that were repeatedly accused of destroying the possibility of artists making a living. Ironically, the world’s greatest libraries of digital music were created by loose groups of thieves and pirates.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to Oink’s Pink Palace by a friend.

It. Was. Awesome.

You could find high quality rips of anything that had ever been recorded. Out of print jazz LP’s. Rare classical recordings in lossless format. Live concerts. Multiple releases of the same album. All meticulously indexed and carefully curated by the community. By fans for fans. Thieves and pirates built the music store that no company would or could, and it was a fantastic community. Most importantly, it made me feel like I was part of something.

Three defining characteristics made it better than any streaming service:

  1. The music I downloaded had no restrictions. It played in any app on any device. I could change apps or computers with no fuss.
  2. Everything was available in high quality; blockbuster hits, multiple versions of the same album, rare releases, and small town bands.
  3. Fans organically formed communities around their favorite artists.

No music service since has nailed more than one of the three. YouTube works everywhere, but the quality is often suspect. SoundCloud works for the small artists, but the mega hits and rare releases aren’t there. Spotify and Apple Music have apps, but they aren’t great and suffer from many infuriating flaws. Their admittedly impressive catalogs mostly come from the big labels, and I’ve never seen multiple versions of an album on either service.

Despite many attempts, no company has been able to recreate the sense of community we enjoyed at Oink’s Pink Palance, or it’s successor What.cd.