A long time ago, in a time that geologists like to call THE ’90s, CDs were still a thing — and not an ironic thing that hipsters say they listen to, but really don’t.
CDs in the early- and mid-’90s were a huge chunk of the music business. If you were to ask a futurist back then what the music industry would look like in the 2010s, they’d probably say we’d be listening to The Breeders and Oasis (look them up on Spotify, kid) on some kind of high capacity physical media that was like a CD. Seriously.
The music industry made a healthy markup on each CD they sold, with the discs, jewel cases and liner notes costing about $2 and retailing for more than $14. They controlled who got played, how their music was manufactured, how it got to retailers and how it was promoted. At some point in the beginning of the late ’90s, music executives must have turned to each other and asked each other, “What could possibly go wrong?”
The internet, that’s what could go wrong. In IRC chatrooms, the nascent stirrings of what would nearly kill and ultimately change the way music companies did business were coalescing. MP3 compression came out of nowhere and high speed connections in college campuses were becoming more prevalent, giving the audience that fueled the Icarus-like rise of music industry profits the means to quickly download files — especially audio files.
Out of this digital Cambrian explosion, The New Yorker explores the humble beginnings of RNS, or Rabid Neurosis, one of the first organized piracy/file sharing groups on the internet.
The secret to the group’s success? Bennie Lydell Glover, an employee at a CD pressing plant during the format’s heyday. By smuggling out primo titles, Glover was able to secure bragging rights for RNS having the biggest titles of the day online first.
RNS also fueled Glover’s lifestyle by giving him a leg up on video games, movies and other content that he could sell for a healthy profit. However, much like the music industry, Glover was a victim of the internet’s success as people were able to access the same files he could, without having to go through him — as well coming face to face with the increasing scrutiny of law enforcement.
Photo by Joriel “Joz” Jimenez/flickr.