Deep Cuts The Rise And Fall of Napster: An Interview With Andrew Price

Deep Cuts hosts Dave Baker and Andrew Price walk you through the ins and outs of a particular topic in film, television and pop culture, no matter how strange or obscure. No matter how small a factoid seems to be, Dave and Andrew will explore its origin and maybe even correct some misconceptions on commonly held pop culture beliefs. Episode topics have included The Worst Harry Potter Fanfic, Bigfoot, Lisa Frank, and Speed Racer.

In their year ending episode of 2020, Deep Cuts explored The Rise And Fall Of Napster in a musical of 11 parts. I talked to Deep Cuts’ Andrew Price about the making of the musical.

Comicspit: Andrew, your Hamilton parody Sandlerton went viral this year. Did that influence your approach to the Napster musical?

Andrew Price: This musical is the opposite of Sandlerton in so many ways. If you don’t know, we had a thing happen where basically we uploaded a weird parody of Hamilton where an Adam Sandler impressionist sings the whole musical from start to finish in 2017, and then it randomly blew up and went viral at the end of 2020 because Spotify recommended it to millions of Hamilton listeners at the end of their 2020 Wrapped. Sandlerton was a single comedic bit stretched out into its absurd logical conclusion that was purposely designed to go viral. It’s like a weird postmodern product crafted to be churned through the social media machine as a satire of the type of weird, meaningless, empty pop culture content we consume on social media every day.

The Napster musical isn’t designed to go viral. We made exactly what we wanted to make and weren’t/aren’t too concerned with how it’s actually received. As a matter of fact, the musical is wrapped in this really strange narrative stuff that I guarantee will alienate some people who aren’t familiar with our show. I hope everybody likes it and is able to appreciate what it is, but all I’m saying is that there’s tons of stuff we should and shouldn’t have done if we wanted this to be one of those big viral things. You know, Buzzfeed posting an article titled “TWO GUYS MADE A MUSICAL ABOUT NAPSTER AND IT’S LIFE” or whatever.

Also, The Rise and Fall of Napster has a lot of thematic and narrative depth in the music. It’s more of a concept album than a characters-sing-speaking-plot-points-Les-Miserables-style musical. And because of that it has multiple narrative and thematic layers. It’s about the story of the rise and fall of Napster, but it’s also about two friends – Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker – building a company together, helping each other, forming a bond, learning from each other, and filling in gaps in the others’ life. But it’s also about Dave and I building this podcast and all of those same things, but about us and Deep Cuts. So yeah I think Sandlerton actually had a pretty positive influence on RaFoN because we very easily could have tried to do a more broad, viral thing in an attempt to grab the largest audience possible, but maybe that itch was scratched a little with Sandlerton and we decided to make it a really weird, very personal, very us thing with no regard for what would happen with it after we clicked upload. That being said, pleaselistentoitandshareitwithyourfriendsandmakeitgoviralplease.

Comicspit: You have a musical past. Can you touch on that?

Andrew Price: I’ve been making songs since I was, like, 5 years old. I remember the first song I ever wrote. The lyrics were, “Dropping rain, like the tears in your eyes. Dropping rain, like all of my lies.” There is a running joke that still follows me to this day because I was recording a song into my family’s living room stereo system about a girl I had a crush on, and my cousin walked in and heard me, and she and several other of my family members still quote the lyrics to me. I know that sounds endearing, but it actually kind of annoys me. Like, let it go. I don’t even have a crush on that girl anymore.

I became obsessed with wanting to make music throughout my elementary school and middle school years so I learned every instrument I could – guitar, bass, drums, piano, accordion. I can play anything that doesn’t have a reed or a spit valve. That led to me being in several bands throughout high school. I developed a reputation as being able to play any instrument and also being able to learn songs quickly, so people would always ask me to play bass or drums in their bands – because it’s hard to find a person who can keep a beat and owns a drum set, and nobody wants to play bass. I was literally in, like, 10 or 15 different metal bands. They had names like Throne of Fire, Obsidian, Desecrated, Opsimath, etc. I liked metal music, but I wanted to start doing more experimental stuff so I started getting into music production and engineering so I could make my own solo music.

I recorded an 80-minute spaghetti western metal rock opera about a man who gets sucked into a tv and fights a band of radiation pirates and put it on Myspace. It didn’t quite get noticed in the way that I wanted it to, but a guy did hear it and ask me to record a cover of a song from the Super Mario RPG soundtrack with him, and that song ended up getting put on an official Super Mario RPG tribute album. And then the bands I was in started asking me to record demos for them, and then eventually that turned into tons of local bands from my town asking me to record demos and EPs for them. At first I was recording on a literal 4 track Tascam tape machine I had bought on eBay because it was the same one Ween used to record The Pod, and then I graduated to a digital 8 track recorder, and eventually I started recording in Cubase SX3 on my computer. That became a cool thing for a while where I was making money recording demos for bands. And then I got a couple jobs doing live sound production for local music venues for a while, which was cool. For a little bit I was seriously considering going to school to become a producer or engineer, but then I worked with a dude at Circuit City who had gone to school to become a producer, started his own recording studio, and then epically failed, sold his business, and had to work for minimum wage at Circuit City, and he basically was this major cautionary tale because he kept telling me you can’t make money in music.

So around that time I was going back and forth between making music and writing/making movies, and that was a good enough push for me to kind of move away from music and focus entirely on filmmaking and screenwriting. I hadn’t done any music stuff for a long time, other than noodling around on my guitar or recording little bits of music here and there for film projects, really UNTIL the Napster musical.

Comicspit: How much more research for this episode did you have to do opposed to other episodes?

Andrew Price: This one actually didn’t require a ton of research compared to other episodes. We’ve found that there’s a sweet spot in doing research. If it happened too long ago, there isn’t going to be a whole lot of material or documentation about it so you REALLY have to dig to find the material you need. And if it’s too recent, especially in the age of social media, there’s TOO much stuff to wade through, and whittling it down becomes a nightmare.

But the Napster story took place in the perfect era where there’s the perfect amount of documentation but not too much where you have to figure out where the story is. So it basically just writes itself. Plus we had Alex Winter’s great documentary Downloaded – which really inspired us to focus on the friendship between Parker and Fanning and Fanning’s feelings of lack of connection with the world that drove him to create Napster. That stuff is all in Downloaded. I can’t claim to have found that myself.

Comicspit: Can you talk about your recording process?

Andrew Price: So every song started as a hummed melody into my voice note app on my phone. Sometimes there’s an accompanying guitar part and sometimes it’s literally just me humming. This is how I’ve always written music. A fully-formed song will pop into my head and I just have to hum it into a recorder before I forget it. One time I dreamed a song, and immediately woke up and hummed it into my phone. That was Used to Be Fun. Other times, I’m either walking down the street or making dinner or something and the song will pop into my head. The rest of the time, I’ll be messing around making up funny songs to entertain my two sons, and I’ll accidentally hit upon something that is actually good. About half of these songs started off as improvised goofy songs to make my kids laugh. You can hear them yelling and running around in the background of a lot of the phone voice recordings. I wrote the entire song Art & Values for my son while he was sitting in his high chair, and I recorded a rough demo of it into my phone where he comes into the second half of the song screaming like Yoko Ono.
We recorded this whole thing in about a month, so there wasn’t a lot of time to sit and develop things. Basically the process of recording from start to finish was…

  • After I’d come up with an idea and hum it into my phone, I’d go into my garage and figure out the guitar parts for the hummed version. Sometimes my hummed phone recordings would be the whole song from start to finish and     sometimes it’d just be a chorus or a verse, so if the song wasn’t completely finished I’d figure out what the rest of the song was as well. Once you have one part of a song, it’s relatively easy to build outward and figure out everything that happens around it. If you’ve got a chorus, it’ll be easy to figure out a verse, bridge, intro, etc. If you’ve got a verse, it’s relatively simple to feel that out into a chorus. Etc. And then I’d record the guitar parts into Logic on a tempo track.
  • Then I’d program drum parts that fit the song and add them in. This is really where the song starts to come together. The backbeat is really where the song comes alive. A song can be one thing when you write it on guitar and sing it, and it becomes a completely other thing when you add a certain drum pattern and bass line to it. The guitar-only demo for Art & Values sounds NOTHING like the final song because of the drums and bass.
  • So once I’ve programmed in the drums, I go in and record a rough bass part. Usually it’s just literally playing the root notes of the chord progression just to get a bass sound in there.
  • Now the song has taken a slightly different shape so I go back in and re-record the guitars that will be slightly tweaked to fit the new feel of the song. This usually includes re-syncopating the rhythm of the guitar to fit certain drum hits. And sometimes it involves completely changing a guitar part because the drums and bass present a better idea for the guitars.
  • Once that’s done, you have a rough instrumental demo. I’d immediately send that off to the drummer to record actual drums and then I’d start recording vocals. Because of the short amount of time this was recorded, I literally was writing lyrics as I recorded them. Writing lyrics and recording vocals is really interesting and fun because songs are usually based on a melody, and melodies are usually based around a particular lyrical phrasing idea. Like, most of phone humming recordings are me humming gibberish words in a certain melody, but there will be one word or phrase somewhere in there. For instance, the phone recording for Brick Wall is me singing, “BRICK WALLLLLL, huh huh uhhh huh huh huh, WON’T FALL, nu huh huh huh huh huh.” You’ll latch onto these certain words or phrases that anchor the idea of the melody and become the thing you base the lyrics around. So going into recording vocals, I mostly knew how the singing would be, I didn’t know what the words would be, but I knew the emotional idea behind the lyrics. So I’d literally stand there with my phone in my hand typing out lyrics line by line and singing them along with the music. And then I’d record that verse or that chorus and I’d move on to the next vocal section until the song was done.
  • After I recorded the lead vocals, I then began the process of figuring out the harmonies for all the vocals and recording backing vocals. This is the part where the vocals really come to life. You start figuring out where the best part is to add vocal harmony accents, whether you want to do a 3rd or 5th harmony, or maybe something different and more experimental. Or you figure out something like on the chorus for Again and Again where you’ve got the backing vocals working in tandem with the lead vocal to weave this melodic and harmonic tapestry.
  • Once I got the vocals recorded and technically had a whole song, I then would listen to the song and figure out where there were sonic holes – spots that need more musical texture or dynamic. Then I’d go in and write lead guitar parts or synth parts and add in any little extra bits of ear candy or textural or dynamic layers to make the song feel sonically whole. In some of the songs, there are also guitar solos that I’d write and record at this point. That part was kind of the most brutal. I recorded 8 songs in a month so I completely shredded my fingertips. But I couldn’t just stop when the pain became too much to handle. Recording the guitar solo for Art & Values was an exercise in pain tolerance.
  • OK, so at this point you have a completed demo. For the songs that Dave sang on, I sent him over a project file that had the instrumental with the lead and backing vocals isolated, as well as a lyric sheet, so he could learn how to sing the song and record himself doing the vocal parts. We did this on everything except A Simple Code, where we actually co-wrote the lyrics together, Dave came up with the vocal melody himself, I tweaked it after the fact, and THEN he recorded the vocals. Then I began the process of basically re-recording everything in each of the songs – guitar, bass, vocals, etc – to fix any mistakes, making any last-minute changes, and generally just clean up the performances to be a final song.
  • Dave and I did a couple of Zoom vocal sessions where I directed him as he recorded and re-recorded the vocal parts for each of his songs a few times until we got what we wanted.
  • With all the tracking done on each of the songs, I waited until the drummer sent me back his drum tracking sessions, dropped the new drums into the projects, did my own rough mixes of the songs, and then shipped them all over to the sound mixer, Santiago, to do the final mixes and masters for the songs. This was the hardest part for me, honestly, because I really didn’t want to let somebody else mix the songs because I’m kind of a control freak. But I realized early on that if I didn’t have somebody else do the brunt of the mixing, this thing wouldn’t have gotten finished in time and I’d still be obsessively tweaking EQ settings as we speak, so I had to allow for that. But Santiago did a great job and this thing wouldn’t have happened without him. He is a production beast. He mixed each song in, like, 2-3 days each which is literally insane. So after a couple days back and forth with Santiago mixing the songs and tweaking, we ended up with what you heard. I’m kind of just as surprised as you are that it exists and ended up as good as it did.

Comicspit: What was your favorite mislabeled song you downloaded from Napster?

Andrew Price: There were a bunch that I remember downloading on Napster. My favorite thing was people uploading any parody song by any random parody band but labeling it as being by Weird Al. I also remember a weird parody of the Sesame Street them song called Sinsemilla Street, that was like a stoner weed parody thing, but it was sung by Kermit the Frog for some reason even though he wasn’t on Sesame Street, but it was labeled as an actual clip from Sesame Street. It was clickbait before clickbait existed, But I think the biggest one that I remember, that literally fooled me up until relatively recently when I decided to pull it up and listen and realized for the first time it was fake, was this cover of the Legend of Zelda theme song that had lyrics, and it was labeled as being a cover by System of a Down because the singer VAGUELY sounded like Serj Tankian. But it was not System of a Down. I know that now. It’s still being passed off as a System of a Down cover to this day. Here it is:

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