Editor’s Note: This is part one of a five-part interview with Scott Wickberg, the first individual to be targeted by the RIAA for copyright infringement for sharing MP3s online. Scott’s story started with an early interest in music, which unfortunately progressed into the events that Scott discusses with Beyond Clause 8 in this interview. Today, Scott operates the vinyl tracking website SlyVinyl and digital marketing firm Wick Creative.
To listen to the audio for this part of the interview, click here.
Beyond Clause 8: Scott, give me a bit of background about yourself. I know specifically that you operate a company called SlyVinyl. Could you tell me a little bit about that?
Scott Wickberg: Yeah. Sly actually came about because me and a buddy used to follow another blog called Vinyl Hounds. It was just some dude posting occasionally some records; there was really no other way to find limited records other than going to every label [web]site and band site. Then, [Vinyl Hounds] decided to become no longer, and I said “You know, there’s an opportunity to jump in and make a site like that.” But the thing that doesn’t make any sense about why I started it—I was saying “nobody has time to go search all these sites and find all these releases,” and so I created a project where that’s exactly what I do. (laughs) I really don’t know what motivated me to go that route. It was just, “There’s a need, let’s go fill it.” I started it, and about six months in it was an overwhelming project. So I asked guys who had been actively commenting on the blog to give me help writing, because I need help making it happen or I was going to give it up. Unanimously, fifteen of the dudes said, “We’re in.” So, it took off from that point to where we have started this group of music lovers across the world. It’s pretty cool.
BC8: How many approximate users do you have now, do you have any idea?
SW: Writers; right now its hovering around 23. Visitors; we’re around 100-120 thousand page views per month. Active individual users ranges a lot, most of our followers just pound the site relentlessly. We’ll have like 2-3 thousand page views a day. They definitely check back often.
BC8: That’s good to hear; it sounds like a great project. Let’s get into the meat and potatoes of the issue. As I understand it, back in September 2000, you were a Freshman at Oklahoma State University.
SW: Right. It was maybe three or four weeks into my Freshman year.
BC8: Right at the beginning, fresh-faced.
SW: Yeah, your parents send you off [to college] and say “I hope he doesn’t get in trouble, or get someone pregnant.” And I just decided unknowingly that I would get all my parents fears out of the way now (laughs). Just make them all come true quickly.
BC8: (laughs) Just get the hard part over with.
SW: So they don’t have to worry anymore! It’s like pulling a Band-Aid; how long do you wait? I just went ahead and pulled it right away I guess.
BC8: (laughs) Unintentionally, of course.
SW: Unintentionally, right. Well, my sister didn’t cause any trouble while she was in college, so I was kind of screwed in that regard.
BC8: Tough act to live up to.
SW: (laughs) Right. Wasn’t going to happen.
BC8: Through the years, you’ve had SlyVinyl going on, you were following Vinyl Hounds; you’ve obviously been interested in music your whole life. This started far before your college career, I assume?
SW: Oh yeah. Definitely. I played guitar since I was young, and wrote . . . well, God-awful songs like many high school kids do. I’ve always loved music, we grew up as a family, loud music was a staple. I don’t think food could be cooked in our household if music was not playing. It would be like, [you] open the fridge, get out the ingredients, put on a record or tape of whatever was popular at that time, and life continues. I started collecting MP3s in 1998, I think. 1997 or 1998, right when they came out. I was taking apart computers; putting them back together; just kind of because it was interesting and fun. I remember the first [MP3] I downloaded; it was Metallica’s “Fade to Black,” live in Germany.
I was, and still am, a fan of old-school Metallica for sure. I remember listening to that song, and just being like “man, this is awesome.” I waited 45 or 50 minutes, but I got this song off the internet that you couldn’t buy anywhere. It’s recorded from soundboard in Germany where James Hetfield just murders the solo [Editor’s note: lead guitarist Kirk Hammett played the solo in Fade to Black, not James Hetfield. It must have been a late night for Scott]. It was like a light went off. I need these. I want them. Give them.
BC8: It all started with this Metallica song that you had to have, and the only way you could get it was as an MP3 online. Was this [via] Napster? How did you initially get these MP3s?
SW: No, this was definitely well before Napster existed. I don’t remember the exact site, but I’m sure that site wouldn’t exist anymore anyway. At this point, there was only a handful of MP3s on the internet, someone just so happened to post this one somewhere. It was probably a full concert online, but it would have taken a day to get 20 songs on MP3 at this point, everyone was on dial-up. I don’t think Napster came out for a good two years, or a year after this. 1998 or so.
At this point it was just random sites. This fancy new MP3 technology was coming out and everyone was experimenting with it.
BC8: Were you the first person of your friend group to do this; to find out there was this exciting new way to start sharing and getting a hold of music? Or was this coming across to everyone at the same time?
SW: No one in my school. I was for sure the earliest that I knew of, because I was so excited to tell everyone (laughs). I remember that people said “What? No way!” Everyone was still doing P&P, Packaging and Postage trading. That was the way you traded live music. You would send someone a CD of something that you recorded via soundboard; they would send you one back. The CDs flew around everywhere. But I knew people who did that. At that time, Dave Matthews Band was still making music that people wanted to listen to, and trading the concerts was pretty big. There were a lot of people doing that, and I started grabbing some of those and converting them to MP3.
I remember people saying “Wait wait wait wait wait. You have that now? Where is it? How do you keep it?” I was having multiple CD burners, so I could be burning CDs, ripping multiple CDs at a time, multiple computers with four CD-ROMs in them. It was very different. It was pretty similar to recording tapes, I did that when I was a kid. Recording tapes; recording actual mixtapes for the lady friends. I wish I still had some of those. That would be amazing, an actual mixtape. I don’t know where I would play it (laughs). It was just the next evolution. The fact that you could grab something from Germany that you couldn’t get ahold of, and then *BAM* you have it, it was pretty unbelievable. I remember showing my Dad. I ran and got my dad, because he loves music too. I said “Dad. Check this out. I just got this, from Germany. To our computer. And it’s playing. Right now.” I think it took 20 minutes for me to explain how that was even possible to my dad.
SW: I said “listen. This is awesome.” And he agreed. Whenever I ended up later getting in trouble, it’s not like my parents said “you were doing WHAT?” My parents thought it was cool as I did, at least my dad did.
Click here to continue to Part 2.