OiNK had been in operation for a little over three years; I had joined exactly one year before it was shut down, invited to the party by CrunchGear alum Vince Veneziani, who’s now kicking about over at GearFuse. Be sure to say hi.
The thing about OiNK (and its primary successors, What.cd and Waffles.fm) is that it wasn’t really ever about getting music for free. To anyone with a job, paying $1 per song is more or less equivalent to paying $0 a song. Music is a commodity. What the labels don’t recognize, or consciously refuse to recognize, is that there was a very real community on OiNK. It was that community that made OiNK special, not being able to download some pop album a few days before it shipped to Wal-Mart.
I’m not old enough to remember the days of being able to walk into a dingy record store in the East Village and listen to The Velvet Underground & Nico for the first time, but that’s exactly what OiNK was like. At least that’s how I perceive it. You had there a group of music fans, both on the site itself and its IRC room, that would, fantastically, discuss music on a level that no amount of venture capital will be able to replicate. People genuinely and relentlessly into music—none of this Pro Tools-enhanced nonsense that passes for music on radio today—interacting, sharing their feelings and opinions on what makes that one album special to them. It was neat.
And for all the money and artificial, Techmeme-fueled buzz something like LaLa generates, it doesn’t really address that community aspect of music. Great, my music’s now in the cloud—how does that enhance my listening experience or my enjoyment of music? Compare that to What.cd, which, without millions of dollars from the latest Silicon Valley know-it-all, has developed its own codebase; launched an innovate Collage feature wherein related albums are grouped together, thereby ensuring you discover new music on a daily basis; and has an impressive collection of lossless albums that you won’t find on any of the cookie cutter online music stores.
Most importantly, What.cd has a community, and it’s one that comes very close to matching OiNK’s.
So while the record labels attempt to sue their way back into our hearts, or license their music to two-bit social media applications, the rest of us can, and should, sit back and remember OiNK today.