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How Music Got Free

A Story of Obsession and Invention

This book can be downloaded and read in iBooks on your Mac or iOS device.


Finalist for the 2016 Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the 2016 J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize, and the 2015 Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year

One of Billboard’s 100 Greatest Music Books of All Time

New York Times Editors’ Choice

ONE OF THE YEAR'S BEST BOOKS: The Washington Post • The Financial Times • Slate • The Atlantic • Time • Forbes

“[How Music Got Free] has the clear writing and brisk reportorial acumen of a Michael Lewis book.”—Dwight Garner, The New York Times

What happens when an entire generation commits the same crime?

How Music Got Free is a riveting story of obsession, music, crime, and money, featuring visionaries and criminals, moguls and tech-savvy teenagers. It’s about the greatest pirate in history, the most powerful executive in the music business, a revolutionary invention and an illegal website four times the size of the iTunes Music Store. 

Journalist Stephen Witt traces the secret history of digital music piracy, from the German audio engineers who invented the mp3, to a North Carolina compact-disc manufacturing plant where factory worker Dell Glover leaked nearly two thousand albums over the course of a decade, to the high-rises of midtown Manhattan where music executive Doug Morris cornered the global market on rap, and, finally, into the darkest recesses of the Internet.

Through these interwoven narratives, Witt has written a thrilling book that depicts the moment in history when ordinary life became forever entwined with the world online—when, suddenly, all the music ever recorded was available for free. In the page-turning tradition of writers like Michael Lewis and Lawrence Wright, Witt’s deeply reported first book introduces the unforgettable characters—inventors, executives, factory workers, and smugglers—who revolutionized an entire artform, and reveals for the first time the secret underworld of media pirates that transformed our digital lives.

An irresistible never-before-told story of greed, cunning, genius, and deceit, How Music Got Free isn’t just a story of the music industry—it’s a must-read history of the Internet itself.

From the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Jun 06, 2016 – As journalist Witt engagingly explains, in 2011, Americans spent more money on live concerts than on recorded music; in 2012, sales of digital music surpassed sales of CDs; and in 2013, revenues from subscription and advertiser-supported-streaming took in billions of dollars. Thanks to piracy and clever technicians, music got free of vinyl and CDs and entered more portable formats, and it also became free for individuals to download or stream widely. Drawing on interviews, Witt profiles various individuals who played crucial roles in the rise of digital music. In the late 1980s and in the early 1990s, a group of German scientists and technicians invented the mp3, the technology that later audio pirates would use to share files of the latest music. Dell Glover, according to Witt, is likely the greatest music pirate of all time; in cahoots with Rabid Neurosis, an online organization run by someone called Kali, Glover leaks over 2,000 CDs to the internet over the course of eight years. Witt engages in careful analysis of the trial of Glover and his associates; the Texas jury decided that the "laws that prohibited piracy did not have to be obeyed," regardless of the economic damage done to the record labels. Witt also writes about music executive Doug Morris, who rose rapidly through the ranks of various record companies to bring Tupac Shakur, Suge Knight, and Dr. Dre to the world. This captivating book goes behind the scenes to help readers understand the current state of the music industry.

Customer Reviews

A Terrific Read

A rollicking tale, told very well. Lots of business lessons to be learned along the way.

Could not put this book down !

The story grabs you and keeps a hold on you until the last page. Having grown up in this era,the story is so detailed and told so well . Loved it !!

Wow - best read in a long time!

Captivating and well flowing. Told the story of a scene I was involved and grew up with. Must read for anyone interested in music, technology and a great story overall. One for the ages. 5 Stars!!!!!

How Music Got Free
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  • $9.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Industries & Professions
  • Published: Jun 16, 2015
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Print Length: 320 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.5 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

Customer Ratings