Delving into Distribution: A Brief History of Music on the Web

Music is paramount in online society.

This statement probably will not come as a surprise to most avid internet users. Music and the web are a match made in heaven – sort of. Needless to say, the relationship between the internet and digital music has been pretty rocky. Most can remember a time when piracy of music was so prevalent just a decade ago that it was beyond reason to believe artists would not see a dime for online distribution of their product. That is, until the introduction of music streaming services – but I am getting ahead of myself. Here is a brief history of music distribution from my personal experience.

 

The Walkman – my pride and joy.

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The beginning of my music listening experience began like most 90’s kids – with the Walkman. This Sony CD player was all the rage when I was a kid, and burning CDs was the best way to acquire new music. However, until the introduction of iTunes (see the next section), the only option for me was to buy a full CD and listen to every track on it, even if I didn’t like a song or two. As such, the only form of music distribution I recall during this dark age of CDs was through music stores and bookstores. There was no online marketplace for CDs. Instead, I had to beg my dad to take me down to Borders (remember that old place?) and buy my CDs there. I remember getting my first Walkman for my ninth birthday. The device was a cyan, pancake-shaped monster of a machine. Regardless of how Sony marketed the Walkman, the CD player was far from portable. Sure, you could carry the thing around, but any small jostle of the Walkman would cause a CD to skip dramatically. In fact, I got used to the sound of skipping on a number of songs housed on an old dance CD. I recall playing “Rhythm is a Dancer” and “Sandstorm” on repeat. By today’s standards, my blue Walkman was a hunk of junk – but I didn’t know anything better. I didn’t know the grass could be greener until I met iTunes.

I remember getting my first Walkman for my ninth birthday. The device was a cyan, pancake-shaped monster of a machine. Regardless of how Sony marketed the Walkman, the CD player was far from portable. Sure, you could carry the thing around, but any small jostle of the Walkman would cause a CD to skip dramatically. In fact, I got used to the sound of skipping on a number of songs housed on an old dance CD. I recall playing “Rhythm is a Dancer” and “Sandstorm” on repeat. By today’s standards, my blue Walkman was a hunk of junk – but I didn’t know anything better. I didn’t know the grass could be greener until I met iTunes.

 

iTunes and the iPod – All I want for Christmas…

The introduction of iTunes revolutionized music distribution. Suddenly, I was able to purchase single tracks from a seemingly endless library of music. No longer was I forced to replay “Rhythm is a Dancer” with its skips and all. iTunes gave me the opportunity to expand my musical horizons exponentially. However, I was still stuck with burning CDs at this point, which I continued doing for the next few years. I remember burning CD mixtapes for several of my friends and distributing my own tastes in music within my own social circles. Then came Christmas.

The year iTunes was introduced, it was coupled with the iPod – a small music player everyone is familiar with today. All I wanted for Christmas was one of Apple’s new bricks to store all of my early 2000s music. That year, Santa didn’t pull through for me, however. It was not until the introduction of the iPod Nano that I finally had a chance to get my hands on the music player. Coincidentally, the iPod I received the following Christmas was blue like my Walkman, which was broken by this time.

 

Yarr, I’m a pirate – or am I?

As stated previously, I had been distributing my own music collection via CDs for quite some time before the introduction of the iPod. With my Nano, however, a whole new world of music sharing became accessible. I went over to friends’ houses and pulled music from their iTunes libraries onto my own device. I became addicted to hoarding as much music as possible on my tiny, 4GB iPod Nano. Clearly, I had no idea I was committing a crime of sorts. I was unintentionally stealing music from everyone I knew. When my parents read an article online concerning music piracy, they forced me into an early retirement from my music pirating career.

 

Swimming with Grooveshark

I went back te5a9658376545ebc594df66160a39e69o buying my own music for a few years before I discovered a new music distribution channel online. Now, I steered clear of most online sharing services like Limewire. However, Grooveshark presented a “legal” channel of music streaming (at least they claimed it was legal). I began building massive playlists on Grooveshark and listening to its abundant library. I had no idea where the service got its music, and I didn’t care. I finally started caring when the site announced it was shutting down. I was heartbroken, and I was bound to my personal library of music once again.

 

Spotify is spotted!

Everythin8298733d8e7748950ca2eadd4cf1cc0eg changed when Spotify made a splash in the music distribution world. The Swedish company actually provided data on how they planned to reimburse artists for streams on their music. In addition, Spotify partnered with Facebook (another addiction of mine at this time) to create a social listening experience. I dabbled with the free version of Spotify for years and was quickly hooked. I refrained from buying into its premium plan for a while fearing it too would disappear. However, Spotify stuck around, and five years ago I started my Premium plan.

 

That brings us to today…

I have been streaming my music via Spotify for half a decade at this point. I am confident my streams will go to support artists and prevent piracy. Moreover, I now have access to a virtually infinite library of music to hoard as I please. Spotify has become on of the most popular forms of music distribution (and by far my favorite). Today, I continue distributing my own tastes via Spotify’s Facebook integration. This sharing functionality harkens back to the days of burning CDs. In fact, I still send tracks I’m listening to on Spotify to my old pals with which I used to swap CDs. Now that’s distribution at its finest.

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