VH1’s latest Rock Doc, Downloaded, made its world premiere at the South By Southwest Music Festival on Sunday night. The film tells the story of Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker, the two teenage hacker wunderkinds who brought the music industry to its knees when they founded Napster in the late 1990s. Earlier today, director Alex Winter joined Fanning, Parker and internet activist/Grateful Dead collaborator John Perry Barlow for a lively panel discussion about the disruptive effect this product had on the world.
We’ve collected the session’s most provocative quotes for you below.
DID THE GRATEFUL DEAD INVENT VIRAL MARKETING?
John Perry Barlow: “The Grateful Dead have done extremely well by giving their work away, and thereby inventing viral marketing.
Sean Parker: “Now you’re taking credit for inventing viral marketing?”
John Perry Barlow: “We didn’t mean to invent viral marketing, we stumbled back-asswards into it.”
HOW WILL SPOTIFY BE ABLE TO SUCCEED WHERE NAPSTER FAILED?
“You’ll recognize that the only label chief that’s still around is Doug Morris. He’s been fairly progressive in his thinking, but he’s the only one who remains. The Bertlesman guys are out of the game, all of the label chiefs below them are no longer there. That’s the sort of thing that happens when there’s
seismic shift in the industry from a $45 billion industry to an $8 billion industry. Money-seeking people tend to go where the money is, not where it’s disappearing. At the minimum, you have a whole new cast of characters who are more receptive to interesting ideas. From my perspective, the struggle has been how do we recreate those magical experiences that people have with Napster, the serendipity of finding a song that you haven’t heard in a while or never heard before.”—Sean Parker
WHAT HAS BEEN LOST WITH THE CONSUMER SHIFT TO DIGITAL MUSIC CONSUMPTION?
“The thing that’s been lost with a CD was that it could be played anywhere, in any CD player, all around the world. That’s not the same with DVDs. CDs were the one medium that were ubiquitous; it was relatively portable –it didn’t allow you to fit 5,000 songs in your pocket— but at least you knew it would play everywhere.”—Sean Parker
WHY DID ALEX WINTER FEEL LIKE THIS WAS A MOVIE THAT HAD TO BE MADE?
“I got on the Internet and started as a layman, but got very involved with it shortly thereafter. I was extremely taken with Napster from the day that it appeared, but it took me awhile to realize it didn’t have anything to do with music. My embrace of Napster was about it as a global community. A lot of us were looking for an expansive global community that actually functioned. The Internet did not function; it was a broken down vessel unless you were a hacker. Literally overnight, on the Napster dialog page in ’99, suddenly there was this fluid global community that worked. I had file folders of people’s hard drives from all over the world, and they had mine. We were all in each other’s stuff, talking about bands, art, movies and books. It’s really impossible to describe what a seismic shift it was … I had an enormous amount of opposition getting this story made, and at a certain point backed off. But once SOPA started up, I thought it has to get out there.”—Alex Winter
WHAT, IF NOT MUSIC, WAS THE SECRET SAUCE BEHIND NAPSTER’S SUCCESS?
“Every interesting, meaningful, large-scale shift that it produces has something to do with the Internet connecting people to one another in a global community. You see it in Napster, you see it in Facebook — it’s all about how do we connect people together in ways that we’re approximately either real-life connection, or in completely novel new ways we’ve never seen before. Napster was the first company that harnessed the underlying true potential of the Internet as a peer-to-peer communications medium.”—Sean Parker
“You know, another thing that had never really been on full display before was what a profound human instinct it is to share the cool. There is an impulse in the human mind that’s as embedded as sex and hunger. If you hear something or experience something and can share it with another person, you WANT to do that. And to be suddenly given the means to do it? It was such an opening and release. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a flowering of people willing to share their cool, the more obscure, the better.”—John Perry Barlow
WHAT IS BIG MEDIA STILL GETTING WRONG?
“Obviously, a lot of people in this room are pirating movies on BitTorrent or whatever on a fairly regular basis. That’s largely because it’s more convenient for you to do so. The fact that the On Demand world, and the Netflix world, and the iTunes world can’t get releases for so long. Eventually, there’s going to be a realization that windowing is a bad practice, and I think a lot of the piracy will start to disappear (once that’s fixed). I think people would pay for higher quality product if it were available to them.”—Sean Parker