Stephen Witt


This is the website of Stephen Witt. I am a Los Angeles-based writer with a focus on long-form non-fiction and investigative journalism. I am best known for my book How Music Got Free.


First published in June 2015, How Music Got Free is a narrative history of music piracy, and tells the true story of the scientists, smugglers and suits who fought the Internet’s first content war. It covers the scientific development of the mp3 and the fall of the record industry in detail, but the core of the story is the organized criminal conspiracy that infiltrated the music industry’s supply chain, leaking more than 10,000 albums to the Internet.

How Music Got Free focuses on a small number of compelling characters and was designed to be a page-turner. It was my first book, and I spent five years researching and writing it. This paid off, more or less—the book was well-received by critics and audiences, and a long excerpt of it was adapted for The New Yorker magazine. It has been translated into 10 languages and is currently being developed into a movie.

Selected Reviews:

  • Dwight Garner, New York Times: “How Music Got Free is Mr. Witt’s first book, and it has what a music executive might call crossover appeal. That is, it has the clear writing and brisk reportorial acumen of a Michael Lewis book.”
  • Nick Hornby, The Times (UK): “A terrific, timely, informative book, of particular value to anyone who has been left bewildered by the speed of change in listening habits in the 21st century.”
  • Steven Poole, The Guardian: “As Stephen Witt shows with a kind of gonzo glee in his closely reported and brilliantly written book, it was not ordinary people who were doing most of the ‘ripping’. There was in fact an organised criminal conspiracy to steal music.”
  • Colin Greenwood of Radiohead: “Like Bond meets 28 Days Later… Witt tells a thrilling tale, with a cast of music biz bigwigs, painstaking German boffins, and pirates and petty thieves. Witt’s writing reminded me of all my favourite modern essayists: Remnick, Franzen and John Jeremiah Sullivan. I loved it.”
  • 100 Greatest Music Books of All Time, Billboard: “With methodical reporting and subtle, sardonic humor, Witt explains exactly how it all played out while implying that, one way or another, the collapse of the old system was inevitable.”

And don’t miss Jarvis Cocker of Pulp interviewing me for over an hour on his BBC6 radio show Sunday Service.

You can buy my book directly from my US publisher here. You can buy my book directly from my UK publisher here. And you can listen to me read the audiobook here.

For international editions, click here.


Professional Writing

I have written a number of freelance articles for magazines, websites and newspapers. Some of my favorite writing appears in these, and a few have gone viral (>10,000 shares.) Here’s a key to help you navigate:

✭ = Personal favorite

§ = Viral hit

†  = Contains material adapted from How Music Got Free


Unprofessional Writing

Here’s some writing I didn’t get paid for: