16 Things I Remember About Napster


I first heard about Napster in 8th grade (aka, 1999). It sounded like the stuff dreams were made of – you mean I can download free music from my babysitter, The Internet? I sat in Social Studies shaking like a leaf with DTs. “Must. Get. To. Computer. Must. Download. Top. 40.”

That same day, I went home with a friend after school, and she asked me to choose whatever song I wanted. We were gonna download it! Holy shit. Her library had eight songs at the time, so choosing the song was simple, quick. I chose “Party Up” by DMX (…). Then we watched the song download at 7 KB/S. It was slow and painful, like boiling three gallons of water. But it was the first time I didn’t have to purchase some band’s shitty album just to hear that one song I liked. I ran home, downloaded Napster, and was addicted for life – or until it was shuttered in 2001. Here are the things I remember most about the OG P2P.

  1. Hearing an IM chime during a song and frantically checking all open IM windows before realizing that the IM was accidentally recorded along with whatever song I’d been listening to
  2. Downloading Soundgarden, Puddle of Mudd, early Pearl Jam songs that were labeled “~!RaRe!~ NIRVANA B-SIDE!~” and feeling disappointed / gullible afterward
  3. Remembering songs that I “HAD TO DOWNLOAD LATER” while I wasn’t at the computer; leading to a series of “scratch papers” that said things like, “Gurl in bumblebee suit, find out what that song is called”
  4. Getting booted from the Internet and having to start a download from scratch
  5. Searching for my name, “Stephanie,” and downloading every search result (they were all pretty bad; save for “Hey Stephanie!” by Gob and “Stephanie Says” by Velvet Underground)
  6. Downloading corrupted files that were half song and half screeching, scrambled white noise
  7. Refusing to download music from any user with a “T1” or “T3” connection despite having a 56K modem
  8. Thinking I was going to get arrested for pirating music and also thinking that Lars Ulrich was a greedy prick asshole
  9. Feeling heartbroken when someone with a cable modem canceled my 87% complete download
  10. Downloading hundreds of songs I’d never even heard of, just because I could; in turn, discovering ‘Rocked by Rape’ by Evolution Control Committee (arguably the best song ever)
  11. Paying my online friend in Minnesota to download ~40 songs and burn CDs for me because I didn’t have a CD burner yet
  12. Simultaneously downloading ten MP3s of the same song, then executing the ones that had slower estimated download times
  13. Wanting to die after waiting two hours for a song to download and realizing it was the “live” or “acoustic” version
  14. Neglecting IMs and “surfing the web” because the computer was buckling under the weight of my downloads and couldn’t handle more than one task at a time
  15. Being so goddamn impatient that I’d listen to the preview of “my favorite song ever, this week” 7-48 times while waiting for the download to complete

File sharing (specifically, music sharing) has seen several iterations since 1999, but none have been as groundbreaking or formative as Napster. Every P2P knock-off pales in comparison, maybe because Napster somehow became part of our personal narratives and not just a means for free music. Miss you, babe.

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