Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Downloaded

In 2000, I was thirteen years old, and even though I was young, I had a very eclectic and grown up taste in music. At every chance I got I was listening to music, and going to the local record store every day after school was my safe haven. I went in every day just in case I missed out on a CD I didn't see the previous day. I remember coming home after school and seeing my older brother sitting on the computer and telling me about a file sharing platform called Napster. He was explaining how you upload and share files with other users who like the same music as you. Upon hearing that my mind couldn't comprehend just how awesome Napster really was. At every chance I got I was using Napster, and even though I was getting music for free, I was still buying the same songs on a CD, because I wanted to be able to listen to it on my stereo as well as taping that same CD onto a cassette so that I could listen to it on my walkman...Wow I feel so old now reminiscing about cassettes. Anyways, I never got over how amazing Napster was, and was crushed when it eventually shut down. I remember reading all over the internet and all through the newspaper of what happened to the company, and just thought how pathetic it was. Musicians and huge music companies coming together to attack Napster for just bringing music lovers closer. For years this has bugged me. I had watched interviews over and over again on Youtube with the Napster creators explaining what their goal was, as well as watching positive and negative reactions to the company from musicians. Then this year I decided to follow Alex Winter on Twitter. I have been a huge fan of him since I first saw 'Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure' when I was 8. While looking on his Twitter profile I saw that he was releasing a documentary about  Napster and the online music revolution which was perfectly entitled 'Downloaded'. I couldn't help but get excited that this was going to be released but at the same time annoyed at the prospect that it wouldn't get played here in Australia, because they do have a tendency to bypass truly amazing films and documentaries. And then a couple of weeks ago I noticed it was available to purchase and watch online, so I practically lost my shit and changed my viewing plans for that evening and decided that I had to watch it. 

'Downloaded' is the story of how Napster changed the way we listen to music thanks to it's founders Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker. Throughout this documentary we are exposed to the story through former members of the company, archive footage, disgruntled and freethinking musicians and corporate giants on both sides of the fence. What is so brilliant about this documentary is that we hear all sides of the story, it is by no means bias, but no matter which way you look at it, the real villains of this music revolution were not Napster, it was the greedy music companies and some self-entitled musicians who really were not about giving back to their loyal fans, but rather lining their pockets with their fans hard earned cash. The music industry is always changing, and there is no way to stop it, especially when technology is concerned. No one thought there would be a bigger battle than the step up from vinyl to CD, but they were wrong. There were so many things we didn't even understand about the Internet, and here we have a group of guys who had barely finished high school changing the way we can access, share and enjoy music. What is so wonderful about this documentary is that Alex Winter manages to convey these guys as passionate pioneers for the music industry who only wanted to make people happy and if they happened to make money on the way, that was just an added bonus. The emotion from Fanning and Parker just radiates out of the screen because these guys had to push themselves to be the best they could be, and while they were just working together for a common good, they were chastised and painted in a bad light by people who only understood any kind of context if dollar signs were involved. Actually hearing different point of views from the guys who all contributed to Napster, gives a real sense of authenticity and that makes you relate to them. If these massive companies had any real knowledge on how people's minds work, they would have realised how awesome Napster was, but instead they didn't want to budge. They were just happy staying complacent, and not even listening to their consumers regardless of the fact that their consumers were evolving. 

I can totally understand why musicians would be less than impressed at the fact that people are illegally sharing or downloading their music. They are missing out on CD sales, yeah that's definitely true. But when people are exposed to an artist for free and hear one or two of their songs, some of these listeners will go out and buy the CD or buy it off iTunes, how do I know? I worked in a huge Hi-Fi chain store for five years. And despite the fact that there are illegal downloads happening all over the world, people would still come in and buy the CD. I cannot tell you how many conversations I had with customers who had illegally downloaded many songs, and then just decided they would prefer the CD. Sales of music has definitely decreased but don't just blame the illegal downloaders. Maybe have a look at the ACTUAL music industry and really listen to what is being released. There are a lot of brilliant new musicians that are out there; some are discovered...and a lot aren't. Instead there is complete rubbish dominating the charts and iTune downloads but these songs are not going to be remembered the way the tunes of Led Zeppelin will be remembered. Napster was brilliant because there were so many independent bands out there who just wanted to be heard, and thanks to Napster they were, and some were even a big success. It is sad though because now it isn't so much about the quality anymore, but the quantity. Push out a tonne of singles, albums, it doesn't matter because die-hard fans will always buy their favourite musicians albums regardless of whether or not it's good. It's as if these cashed up musicians forget about all the crappy bars and clubs they had to perform at just to get people to hear their music. And more often than not, they would have done it for free. At times I do believe musicians forget about how loyal their fans truly are. Think about it, you spend hundreds of dollars for a concert ticket, you buy band shirts, CD's. DVD's, re-issues of old album with two added new tracks, and you do that because you love their music. But love get's lost in the music industry and it's all about money. And when it comes down to it, these companies didn't want to lose cash, so they destroyed something that could have made them just as much, all because they didn't understand it. 

I really loved 'Downloaded', and I would have to say it is easily in my top 10 favourite documentaries of all time. I can't tell you how many times I have watched this in the past few weeks. It's storytelling at it's best. It doesn't just briefly summarise certain aspects, it really goes in depth but not so convoluted that it's a mess. Everything is edited and explained honestly and straight to the point, so you're not having to stop and say 'Oh shit I have no idea what they are talking about'. Alex Winter really knows how to tell a story and make it unfold to captivate your interest and that is a sign of an amazing filmmaker in my eyes. He managed to piece together this saga which had been more or less forgotten about, and gives the audience the saga in it's entirety. 'Downloaded' definitely has a smooth transition between the chapters, so you understood what was going on and you aren't left confused. You can see Alex Winter's passion and knowledge for the issues been discussed, and his direction of this feature are nothing short of brilliant and engaging. 'Downloaded' is fresh, insightful, and totally in a league of it's own. The ideas and elements used in this documentary are very well thought out, so this know's exactly what it is. If you have a thirst for knowledge and love documentaries you need to see this, because I am sure you will take away something awesome away from this. 

If you are curious and want to watch an amazing documentary then go to the following link, there are a tonne of different ways you can access it: 

http://downloadedthemovie.com/

And don't forget to follow Alex Winter  on Twitter : https://twitter.com/alxwinter

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