In the evolution of music online, the year 2000 will go down as the big digital bang. Sure, techies and audio geeks have been swapping songs online for years, but Y2K was when the novelty went pop. Who would have thought that a freshman dropout from Northeastern University (Napster’s creator Shawn Fanning) would end up on more magazine covers than Bill Gates? Or that Lars Ulrich would be such an unrelenting ass? For music fans, it was the best of times and worst of times. Here’s a look at the best — tune in next week for the worst.
1. Napster: Love it, hate it, bookmark it. Napster was the not only the biggest digital music story of 2000, it was probably the biggest music story ever. And the hyperbole is warranted. Never before have fans, artists, labels, and even terminally un-hip politicians, been so engaged over the lusts and limits of listening pleasures.
2. Gnutella: While Napster sucked up the spotlight this year, Gnutella usually had to settle for being little more than a footnote. But in the long run, this shrewd little bit of peer-to-peer file trading software is cooler because it’s decentralized: no owner, no company, no way to get sued. Plus, it’s way easier to use than Napster’s other freebie alternative, Freenet.
3. Ween Radio: New Hope’s demented duo pulled this year’s shrewdest move — making its entire catalog of music (including dozens of bootleg concerts) available for free online. Even smarter, the songs are in streaming-only format, so fans can listen, but not download.
4. Shoutcast: While the rest of the world was fighting over the Napster, the surfers on Shoutcast were busy doing their own DIY radio thing. With the Winamp music player and a quick plug-in download, anyone becomes an instant DJ, able to broadcast tunes over the Net. Power to the people, indeed.
5. Hole.com: Courtney Love knows a good opportunity to say fuck you when she spots one. This year, that meant being the first major artist to upload reams of bootleg MP3s onto her own Web site (including some rare tracks she recorded with Kurt).
6. Liquid Audio: Despite being the bastard stepchild of MP3, the Liquid Audio format has proven that digital music can be secure and compelling. The company has delivered a high-quality format that has been endorsed by both the Smashing Pumpkins and Tower Records.
7. Kenwood Excelon z919: The first serious MP3 car radio player. Making digital music playable in the most portable place of all. Take it on the run, baby.
8. Aimster: In August, geeks from Troy, New York, transformed AOL Instant Messaging program into an easy-to-use file-trading program. Best of all, because Aimster was an add-on, AOL couldn’t it figure out how to shut it down . . . yet.
9. Behind the Music That Sucks: Insane Clown Posse, Hanson, Chumbawumba. All the bands you love to hate are given their due in this hilarious animated online series from Heavy.com.
10. Radiohead.com: Proving that a web site can be as compelling as its band.