One of the most fascinating questions in modern times is, with MP3 downloads readily available and folks swapping files left and right, how is anyone going to make money in the music business. Greg Kot's book Ripped may not have a concrete answer (does anyone?), but it does raise a number of possibilities as well as provide history on how we got here. Along the way, he tells how many of the most interesting bands in rock / indie today - Wilco, Radiohead, Bright Eyes, Death Cab for Cutie - took advantage of some of the changes in music technology and in the industry to achieve a level of success that might not have been possible for similar bands in the pre-Internet/MP3 era.
My complaint with the book is that Kot repeatedly casts the record companies, and corporations in general, as evil capitalist overlords that only do harm to consumers and artists. And hey, let's face it - the record industry has not covered itself in glory over the past twenty years, missing the boat on the Internet despite numerous opportunities and making every wrong move when it comes to adapting to the digital music era. It's clear that the industry is going to need to be re-molded to meet the needs of fans, artists, and distributors; what's less clear is that the record companies have no role to play in this process, which seems to be the position Kot is taking.
Still, while the book has few answers to what the future does look like, Kot covers an admirable breadth of possibilities in his examples. Wilco was famously catapulted to "stardom" after Yankee Hotel Foxtrot leaked on the Internet. Radiohead self-released album In Rainbows. Death Cab was given huge exposure when they were featured on teen dramedy The O.C. Arcade Fire and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah were jump-started by exposure through web 'zine Pitchfork. These routes to success may not be open for every band, but they're interesting examples of how bands can reach a wide audience, often in a short period of time, independent of the model that has largely sustained the music business over the last half-century.
I'd recommend Ripped to anyone interested in the music industry and what the business of music looks like over the next couple decades. There isn't anything earth-shattering for folks who have been following what's happened over the last decade, but Kot's writing is engaging and the anecdotes and quotes that fill the book are fun and interesting. Kot continues to follow developments on his blog and on radio show / Podcast Sound Opinions. You should check those out and if you enjoy them, Ripped is a great summary of how we got here and where we might be going.
Greg Kot official site