Musicians v. Technology: From Jack White and Prince to Pearl Jam and John Philip Sousa

Musicians v. Technology: From Jack White and Prince to Pearl Jam and John Philip Sousa
Photo: David James Swanson
Jack White has banned cell phones from his upcoming tour, reinforcing his reputation as a retro-fetishizing Luddite. Of course, White isn't the first musician to try to stem the tide of technology. Ever since the early days of recorded music, artists have been decrying the latest developments.
 
John Philip Sousa v. the Phonograph
After Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877, it soon became possible for laypeople to listen to recorded music in the comfort of their own homes. This development was met with resistance from the music establishment of the time. In 1906, famed military composer John Philip Sousa penned an article called "The Menace of Mechanical Music," arguing that the proliferation of recorded music would make people lose interest in learning to play instruments. He wrote, "I foresee a marked deterioration in American music and musical taste, an interruption in the musical development of the country."
 
Pearl Jam v. CDs
Apparently Eddie Vedder wasn't such a fan of the "compact" aspect of the compact disc. In a circa-1991 Pearl Jam interview seen in the documentary Pearl Jam Twenty, he holds up a copy of the debut album Ten and complains about its size: "I hate holding up a CD. I want to hold up an album. You can barely see this." This comment was made in the heart of the CD era, but it proved to be quite prescient — when vinyl made a comeback a couple of decades later, the format's tactile appeal was a big a part of its popularity. Here's the best part for Vedder: Ten is now easy to find on vinyl.
 
Metallica v. Napster
In 2000, Metallica discovered that a demo version of their Mission: Impossible 2 song "I Disappear" was being traded on the pioneering peer-to-peer file sharing service Napster. They responded by suing Napster and getting over 300,000 of their own fans banned from the service. Drummer Lars Ulrich in particular became a subject of ridicule, and the parody cartoon "Napster Bad" (by Camp Chaos) became an early example of a viral meme. Metallica's reputation never fully recovered, even as the band have embraced digital music by making every show available for purchase from livemetallica.com.
 
Prince v. the Internet
The Purple One was a longtime digital music holdout who, in 2010, famously declared, "The internet's completely over. I don't see why I should give my new music to iTunes or anyone else." He continued to have a fraught relationship with the internet: he briefly made some of his music available digitally, but in 2015 removed his catalogue from all streaming services except Tidal. After his death, his music has been made available across all platforms.
 
Taylor Swift v. Streaming
Many artists have decried the low royalties handed out by streaming services, but none more prominently than Taylor Swift. In 2015, she penned an open letter condemning Apple Music's plan to not pay royalties during its three-month trial period, writing, "We don't ask you for free iPhones. Please don't ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation." The company changed their policy soon after, and exec Eddy Cue announced the news with a tweet that said, "We hear you @taylorswift13 and indie artists."