To paraphrase Dr. Sheldon Cooper of “Big Bang Theory” fame, when it comes to listening to music, most people these days “buy it on the iTunes.” Digital downloads have become so common, in fact, that brick-and-mortar music stores have been struggling to stay alive as far back as 2005.
Years before Apple unveiled the first generation iPod and their online music store, however, college students Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning created Napster, a file-sharing system that revolutionized the way people added to their music collections. It was a bold, innovative system that had multitudes of fans, but also countless detractors.
“Downloaded,” which screened at SXSW 2013 last week, documents the rise and fall of Napster and puts its contributions into perspective. When reached via telephone for an interview, director Alex Winter said the way he bought music changed because of the file-sharing system back then.
“Napster was the beginning for me not buying music the way I used to. I still bought digital, but I stopped completely with vinyl. I’d buy CD’s. I’d rip them in my computer, and then listen to them in an MP3 player. Everything just changed; it evolved everything,” Winter said.
Winter also said there is nothing like Napster today. “It wasn’t just downloading. It was a very robust social community; it had real-time chat. But legally, it was just a complete quagmire. You had two naïve 18-year-old kids who built it and put it online,” he explained.
Winter said he originally wrote “Downloaded” as a narrative some years ago.
“I met with Shawn Fanning when Napster was just falling apart. I was really fascinated with the whole story of music and technology and the evolution of these new systems and the impact they were having. It just fascinated me back even at the time,” he said. “I came back to it a few years ago when I saw so much contention in the news about Internet rights and transparency and where do we go from here. Nothing had been resolved. These were issues I thought would have been way done a long time ago.”
Winter went on to say he set out to talk to the actual people who were involved in these issues. He incorporates contemporary interviews with archival footage that is scarily accurate in its predictions for the future.
“When I sent Sean Parker the trailer to look at, even he was shocked. He hadn’t seen the movie. He was like ‘A) I’m really young and B) I can’t believe I said that 12 years ago,'” Winter explained.
“Downloaded” is an emotional journey for music lovers, especially Parker and Fanning.
“I know those guys really well, so I was able to get them to open up to it, but I don’t think it wasn’t completely without any pain. Revisiting this era that was very turbulent for them was not wholly uncomplicated,” Winter explained. “It did revive some feelings that they may have not wanted to experience again. It wasn’t an easy time for either at them. They were willing and interested at having a look back at a very explosive time in their lives and also one that has huge cultural impact.”