Ah, the Music Industry. Capital I, and don’t you forget it. The same people that brought you the soundtrack to your childhood. The mix of suits, ties and trendsetters that has helped define cool since your parents were listening to vinyl LPs. The same people that killed Napster.
Since its inception, the music industry has undergone a series of tumultuous changes as its business model got turned upside-down thanks to the rise of the internet and the subsequent flood of sites that allowed easy access to music. From Kazaa and LimeWire to Soulseek, RapidShare and countless others, fans were granted the ability to own their favorite tracks free of charge, upsetting artists and labels alike, and ultimately leading to plummeting album sales. In short, your stash of illegally downloaded discographies changed the game.
As things start to level out, with streaming giants striking deals with labels, yet another fan favorite site appears primed to bite the dust: SoundCloud — home to millions of bedroom DJs and struggle rappers and off-key singers, as well as a hoard of overlooked talented musicians from every genre imaginable.
SoundCloud — often called “the YouTube of music” — has had its fair share of legal trouble, fighting off labels and lawsuits. Ultimately, it experimented with a premium service to counteract its quarterly losses with revenue. On the verge of bankruptcy — reportedly having just a few weeks worth of cash reserves — many are holding their breath as others frantically Google alternatives.
With SoundCloud seemingly back on track — thanks to a Hail Mary from Chance The Rapper — the DX Staff compiled their fond memories of times spent mistakenly ripping Soulja Boy tracks* as they searched for the latest songs on any number of highly suspect sites.
Remember kids, support the music!
Note: All photos were illegally downloaded off the internet.
While Mardam-Bey’s Internet Relay Chat, or mIRC, may have launched from a dorm room at the University of Westminster in London a year after the MP3 was formally introduced, its reputation for housing file-sharers and the world’s most notorious hackers wouldn’t come until the late ’90s. For our less computer savvy friends, mIRC represents the epicenter of the worldwide file-sharing community. It’s where terms like n00b and l33t, and replacing vowels with numbers, in general, became popular. Where Napster made it easy for the common person to share MP3s, mIRC is the digital home of where all of your free music, movies, flicks, and “warez” came from. Torrents were, and still are, for n00bs and people begging to be caught by the RIAA and FBI.
I discovered mIRC shortly after Napster became too congested and while Audiogalaxy was on the decline. It was almost like a secret cult. I was invited to private groups on major mIRC channels where I was shown the ropes. I still talk to people I made friends with during that time more than 20 years ago. On mIRC, I met people from the infamous RNS ripping crews and was given access to what was called a 0Day FTP, normally reserved for the most elite members of a ripping crew.
If I’m losing you it’s because mIRC was not for the novice PC user. A ripping crew was a collection of people around the world with access to unreleased media; a 0Day FTP is a dedicated server powered by a very expensive T1 or T3 internet connection where things were immediately uploaded as soon as they leaked. A lot of times the music being leaked came directly from studio engineers who were members of a ripping crew. Other times, it was the kid smuggling CDs out of a Best Buy or an actual record label manufacturing plant. That HQ movie you got from the bootleg man was uploaded by the kid working at the AMC or the distributor. Those free software programs you enjoy? They most likely originate from a mIRC ripping crew of hackers who pick apart and rewrite the app code so that it can be installed free of charge. I amassed 2TB of music from mIRC in my day. Though mIRC is still open for business for those who know how to use it, it’s a far cry from the glory days. — Marcel Williams
When I got to Bentley University in 2001, each student was required to have a laptop for the curriculum. I arrived with my IBM ThinkPad, along with my book of CDs and some cassette tapes for my stereo, only to be told by my dorm roommate that these archaic tools were no longer needed. Once he showed me the music download program WinMX, it was like I had rubbed the bottle and been granted every musical wish by the genie.
Why would a broke college kid pass up the chance to get free music instead of paying $16 for a CD? Not to mention I could get all the underground rap battles and songs you couldn’t find on Napster, Kazaa, or anywhere else. File-sharing was second nature to kids back then, and we could trade files even through AOL’s Instant Messenger. It was a free-for-all. Within a few months, I had downloaded over 7,000 songs, but as the RIAA began to sue people for $2,000 per download — with that benchmark of 3,500 or more in 2002 — I was the shook one who dumped more than half of what I had. Of course, I burned many of those deleted songs onto blank CDs before they were gone forever. —Dana Scott
“No, Mom, I have no idea how we got this virus. The computer just won’t turn on!”
Funny story: I did know how the computer got that virus, and it had something to do with a LimeWire download for a Led Zeppelin discography. (Oops!)
Whether it was being tricked into downloading Soulja Boy songs or simply ripping tracks because you could, LimeWire was a go-to in the early 2000s, with a NDP Group survey stating that 58% of those that downloaded music from a peer-to-peer network in 2009 used the service. Awash in legal trouble by 2010, the site performed its own version of fade to black (as users ripped titles like JAY-Z’s farewell concert DVD till the last day), but the memories of unwanted “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” listening sessions will last forever. —Andrew Gretchko
When I was 13 years old, I thought that my lifelong Hip Hop consumption would be facilitated through either copping physical CDs or watching BET Now on endless repeat. That is, until, rumors spread of Kazaa: the magical desktop program that allowed you to download as many individual songs as you wanted. Gone were the days of skipping all the way through Snoop Dogg’s Rhythm & Gangsta album to hear “Drop It Like It’s Hot.” The single-song game had taken the music listening throne. That poisonous lime green lettering in the software’s logo glowed like a beacon of hope for all my Lil Wayne freestyle snippet needs, even if downloading them caused my family computer to be flooded with pop-ups, malware and a plethora of “Walk it Out” remixes.
Once my dad couldn’t access MapQuest without having LiveJasmine ads clutter the browser, I decided it was time for Kazaa Lite – the more computer-friendly version of the plagued peer-to-peer service. Still, that also crippled the desktop computer to the point where my family deleted everything Kazaa-related in one fell swoop. — Scott Glaysher
Unlike many sites on this list that conducted an overseas quarterback scramble when the heat hit a boiling point, Rapidshare actually started in Europe — Germany to be exact — thus solidifying their anonymity well before they built their empire. Their unassuming browser and free (and limited) download speeds didn’t make them the flashiest out of the bunch but they allegedly boasted 3 million users and 10 petabytes worth of files (1 petabyte = 1,000,000 gigabytes) when they were in full stride.
When the feds started to crack down on illegal file-sharing, Rapidshare moonlighted as a cloud storage company before shutting down shop completely in 2015. Consider their legacy effectively slept-on. – Trent Clark
My P2P saga started with simple download sites but peaked with the discovery of torrents. (Relatively) safe and reliable, these sites offered fast downloads and a constantly upgraded catalog that made finding the latest hits and movies even easier. I didn’t pretend to understand the technology (and didn’t want to think about the legal issues), but Demonoid quickly became my favorite of all the torrent indexes. I wasn’t alone, as the site racked up millions of users until being overtaken by sites like BitTorrent and facing — you guessed it — a slew of legal troubles. —Andrew Gretchko
The Pirate Bay
Man, this one brings me back. Another name in a long list of torrent sites, The Pirate Bay had just about everything. Not only that, but it got tons of media for its flight across the web, from .com to .so to .org, not to mention the legal trouble (and jail time) of its founder.
Much like many of the other torrent sites, it’s still around in some capacity (shoutout to Kickass Torrents), but don’t forget to thank Gottfrid Svartholm, Peter Sunde and Fredrik Neij for helping you stay up to speed on the latest Dipset offerings. —Andrew Gretchko
OiNK’s Pink Palace
The name was an odd choice, but OiNK was like some kind of nerd paradise (as was its eventual replacement, What.CD). As my knowledge of computers grew, so too did the torrent landscape, and OiNK was at the cutting edge. Did I mention it was invite only? Yeah, this was only for the real OGs of the P2P game and had blazing fast download speeds to boot. If more for the prestige than anything else, OiNK was fun while it lasted. In 2007, a joint raid by British and Dutch police took down the site and its then-24-year-old founder. — Andrew Gretchko
So you liked to download albums/games in tightly packed zip files? That’s cute. Midway last decade, Megaupload burst onto the scene making it easier (and faster) to slam your desktop with full artist discographies and segmented parts of leaked movie screeners. (So I’ve heard people tell me ;-). And during the height of their popularity, they applied a Stringer Bell “going straight” approach to their operation, adding a full video player and even recruiting Swizz Beatz in some sort of executive capacity. The gravy train came to a complete stop in 2012 when notorious founder Kim Dotcom was arrested for a litany of white-collar crimes and the big orange beast (responsible for 4% of the internet’s traffic at the height of its dominance) was sentenced to world wide web purgatory.
When asked about his involvement in the file-sharing site, Swizz told the masses, “I’m a fan of music, I’m a fan of people who work hard and I would never be a part of anything that’s taking from artists when I fight so hard to give so much to the artist” before adding, “You know what I was doing – I was giving artists 90% of the shit.” – Trent Clark
To the naked eye, the pop-up prone zShare appeared to be like any old file-sharing hub during its heyday. But it packed one feature that would go on to become the music industry norm a decade later.
A streaming audio player.
The buffer-free addition allowed zShare to stand out from the competition, as it let you preview whatever leaked loosie it possessed, as opposed to having to download the file outright. That said, as the music industry internet expanded, zShare fell out because of the nature of its existence and lack of technological advances. – Trent Clark
YouTube to MP3
Despite having a job that could easily support a subscription to at least one streaming service, there is something about having the ability to easily add a free MP3 to my iTunes that just feels right. People forget how much YouTube serves as a viable “streaming service” and database for rap music. The fact that it’s so user-friendly is what makes the “YouTube to MP3” model so appealing. A two-second search will find the desired song and then a simple copy-paste will fly it right into your iTunes library.
Sure, the quality might be almost unlistenable and the time you spend editing out the music video dialogue at the beginning of the song is barely worth it, but hey, at least now you’ve got that sacred MP3 file.
Here’s a fun way to see if your friends are also pirates: if they play “Hotline Bling” off their iTunes and it starts with the female operators talking about playing with feet then you’ve got yourself another YouTube piracy pal. — Scott Glaysher
Long live SoundCloud!
*That’s a joke! We only like REAL HIP HOP! *beatboxes*