Storms on the Horizon: The Compact Disc, Napster and How Humanity Always Needs to Look Back to Move Forward

“You’re the 10th caller,” said a raspy-voiced DJ who goes by the name of Dusty Street. “You’ve won a copy of Sting’s new CD, and tickets to see him in concert at The Hollywood Bowl. What’s your name?”

“Hi Dusty, my name is Brian! I live in Newbury Park.”

“Well hello Brian. Let me write this down, Brian from Newbury Park. Congrats, and thanks for listening to 95.5, KLOS!”.

A few days later, a small package arrived to my home, and within it was my very first company disc, The Soul Cages by Sting . I was notified I would pick up tickets at the will-call booth when I see him at the Hollywood Bowl a few weeks later.

My very first company disc. How my life would change, completely, with one phone call to a radio station. Yet, this written piece is about the pandemic and our current situation. Let’s see exactly how I will end up there.

I was very fortunate to spend numerous years of my life working in the music industry. Incredible, amazing years, making a small salary but living with tremendous perks. One of those perks, collecting hundreds upon thousands of compact discs, became an obsession. I must have the latest by this artist. I must find this specific CD. I need the entire discography by Rush. I housed my entire collection in the closet of the first place I lived outside of my parents home and a dorm during a quick stint in college, and I would spend weekends going through the sea of compact discs, organizing, alphabetizing. It was an escape. Taking one out of its case, playing it loud, sorting through others to find the next artist that would meld perfectly with the previous. Getting lost in the artists and their music on a weekend was a wonderful time. In ways it would keep me from spending the little money I had, and would allow my mind to get away from whatever the news topic du jour was.

During this time, there was a storm brewing in the distance, and it had a name. Napster. Over the period of time where millions of compact discs were sold, different news outlets would publish the same article, with their own interpretations. The articles all focused on the answer to this question: Why does a compact disc cost $16.99? Exactly where does this money go? The articles would include pie charts, the same shape of a compact disc (ta-da!), with a thorough breakdown of where every dollar would end up after purchase.

The articles were all of the same. They all shared the same information, published every month or so by a different publication. The conclusion? It took 2 dollars to actually make and sell a compact disc; the other 15 dollars were going in a multitude of directions, and a percentage of individuals and corporations were becoming extremely rich. It was a goldmine (name of an actual music magazine) for those in control, those pushing the buttons, signing the artists, making the deals.

This Napster storm, out in the distance. Would this have an effect on the millions of dollars made by the sales of compact discs? I’m sorry, billions of dollars that were flowing through record labels, publishers, and the like? Many felt this was impossible. Sales were too strong, the businesses were too solid. A few saw the storm, keeping a close eye. A very, very small amount of individuals (think 2008 collapse and those who profited) were preparing for the worst.

As the storm grew, the industry reacted. Most reactions were not appreciated by people who saw the music industry as a money-grabbing, soul-leeching machine. Artists became involved, taking opposing sides. Companies saw the storm as opportunity, though many opened an umbrella for what they felt was a light rain storm when in actuality it was a fully-formed tornado. Books were written, the storm now over our heads, the twister pillaging on all, showing true colors. A few stayed wealthy. Many lost their jobs. The battle between the Napster storm and the iconic record labels took years, and the economic casualties were wide.

However, for well over a decade, we were warned that the cost of a compact disc, and those reaping the profits didn’t fit into the mainstream ideals of why consumers would spend that much of their hard-earned money on a shiny disc with a certain finite amount of music. By now, music piracy was growing, Napster was no longer a potentially passing storm but a mainstay on the landscape of music, and with it the layoffs, deterioration of profits and sales. While it took well over a decade, the music industry, as well as other forms of entertainment who felt the effect in their own way, found footing and other methods to create revenue streams to combat their losses. Substantial growth resumed, and now my thousands and thousands of compact discs are in the hundreds of those artists I obsess over, while Spotify and Pandora have become daily, if not hourly appendages to the body of my day.

So… the music industry… Compact Discs… And a Pandemic?

For the last 2 decades, and for some longer, article-after-article, finding-after-finding told us that the basic health of humans is deteriorating with the food we take in. While the thought of chasing down articles and studies would be ideal for this aspect of the article, all I really need to do is go back to last summer, and my own very personal experiences. At my best, my body weight would roughly flux between 175 and 180 pounds. With marathon training, it would hover around the mark. The training for long arduous runs has been put aside over the last year, and I began to try and outrun my fork: Eating whatever I wanted with the mindset of the fast, furious workouts would burn the calories. Finish a thirty minute boot camp class? Stop at Del Taco for a burrito. A few hours of basketball? Taco Bell to celebrate. Need for protein? Chicken, chicken, chicken.

In late July of 2019, I stepped onto the scale at boot camp, looked down, and felt disgusting: 207. I did not feel out of shape. I had some decent muscle tone. I went home and looked at some recent photos from the past few months. I looked… Bloated. Unhealthy. The party was over, this was the time to make changes. 7 weeks later, massive dietary changes (including 3 weeks of going pure raw vegan), I stepped onto the scale: 184. As the competitive person that I am (hi, sports), I beat out those who took on the challenge given to us from the boot camp. Competition goes a long way in determination and perseverance.

From the summer through today, I cook more than I have through my twenties and thirties. My twenties were fed by expense accounts and home-cooked pasta; my thirties were others expense accounts and richer foods based on my own tastes. The metabolism, as it always does, was pulling up a chair and taking in a cigar for the rest of this round of 18 holes of life; changes needed to be made.

The experience of an intense and life-changing food blueprint showed I was going to make wholesale changes that will be my guide from here on out. Unfortunately, I am in a very, very small percentile of living humans. Our food supply is insane. What most humans take into their bodies as food is questionable, to put it mildly. Now, this doesn’t mean my sweet tooth doesn’t get the best of me, or I do not enjoy a hard poor of high-end Tequila, or a glass of red. You do have to actually live.

I also pay for more expensive golf clubs through my golf journey… And by golf clubs I mean health insurance. What does this monthly cost allow for? My own naivety and total lack of study and understanding will tell you that this is an expense that exists, and while it certainly doesn’t feel right, it is a necessary expense in a capitalist society.

That said, there are articles. Many, many articles, news reports and so on that discusses how the system, specifically in this country, will reach a place that any sort of massive problem will cause it to come under great strain as a percentage of humans simply do not take care of themselves for an abundance of reasons that are certainly valid. The storm that was being written in reports and covered on the nightly news spoke of questionable health and an even more questionable system to handle future dilemmas. I will say this now, this is NOT about politics, for me, in regards to what I have chosen to write. OBVIOUSLY politics plays a role in ALL of this. That said, humans make choices. The basic fundamentals of life? Those are human choices. This is certainly a vague line in the sand of avoiding politics to discuss an issue. I choose to discuss the issue, and talk about humans and their own sense and sensibility.

So remember when Napster was a storm on the horizon that less than 1% of the music industry took seriously? Seems like a pandemic was a storm on the horizon that less than 1% of the human race took seriously. Problems we saw, out in the horizon, are now problems in the present, where an absolutely horrific virus has taken a terrifying amount of lives, of which a medium-to-large percentage of death have come to the elderly and unhealthy. It would seem, in common sense, that our medical institutions would be priority for those in dire health, chronic diseases, of certain ages, and for trauma. Certainly younger people, and those who should be in decent-to-good health should withstand pandemics. The good news is many are. The bad news is the systems in place are, frankly, crushed. We all give thanks and praise to those on the front-line. The sad fact is the ignorance is killing us, and changing our future.

In the last hundred years, we have had one pandemic of this size and magnitude. Humans have done an incredible job to not repeat what has taken place centuries before. Sadly, 102 years later, we are living in a pandemic, and, in my opinion, many humans believed there was no way this would ever occur again. Pretty naïve.

Writing these thoughts brought to mind what it was I was trying to accomplish. There are multiple answers. First, life is hard. Period. Life is hard! Everyone, at every age, has had challenges and struggles. For some reason, in many cases, and whatever that case may be, we take the easy road versus the right road. That is where food comes in. We have taken the easy road, and, for many, many reason that I simply have no interest in going into due to the fact that I choose to write on thought and not do a deep-dive into the massive characteristics of capitalism, humans have chosen easy over right when it comes to the food they eat. Enough said there, take it what you will. As far as health care, we simply have people who, if they do what is right-over-easy, would lead healthier lives and thus not put themselves into positions where they need care versus those who live on what health care does for them in order to live. There’s also the simple fact of ignorance. It doesn’t matter the industry, it doesn’t matter the situation. Humans choose to react to the immediate versus planning for the worst possible scenarios. We are dealing in the now, and the now says stay home, stay away from others, find a cure, find a vaccine, and, at some point, go back to normal life. Isn’t normal life how we came to this position in the first place?

We’re going to lose more humans through this. It’s a sad fact as the world moves through a pandemic that was a storm on the horizon that, one day, would reach shore. We do not know how long we will be standing under the storm, and we do not know how long are umbrella will last. And by umbrella, a part of me means sanity. There have been cracks, there will be more.

When this passes, which will happen, what will we learn? What will we take away from it? I don’t need the compact discs anymore. I don’t need the poor food choices. I will certainly look fondly at many of the stories involving round coasters and late night food questionable decisions while buzzed on high-end tequila. This all being said, if humans do not learn from these decisions, or lack-there-of, we are only destined to repeat them.

Humans have made the most incredible achievements over centuries. That is what I will focus on. I will remain positive that, as done before, when the storms pass, when the umbrella is put away, the lessons learned from experiences and brain and body foresee new challenges, like seeds in fresh dirt and water, new life will grow, and we will enjoy the spring that arrives from the darkest of winters.

In the meantime, I might go back and listen to 2112 in its entirety, again.



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Brian Scott Gross

Brian Scott Gross

Brian Gross, President of BSG PR, has been in the service of media and public relations for over 27 years.