History Lesson: How People Got Music on their Computers in a Pre-iTunes Era
    • WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 28, 2016

    • Posted by: Alexander Spruch

    It's not new news that music is more accessible than ever before. Stream services are usable on any internet-enabled devices we have, from our phones to our TVs, meaning that when it comes to accessing music, we are basically Gods. As long as we have the internet, all we have to do is to think of a song, invoke it in our stream service of choice, and lo and behold, it's playing. We weren't always this strong though. Our digital caveman era so to speak only took place about 15 years ago. Let me give you a brief glimpse into how things used to be.

    At first, MP3s were sort of limited for the average user. MP3 players weren't abundant as they are today, so other than having a centralized collection on your computer, the only other reason to digitize your music collection was so you could listen to something as you browsed websites through AOL. Eventually, the iPod came out and that gradually changed, and MP3s weren't just nice to have, they were needed. Diehard music listeners had been trading MP3s and other audio files via newsgroups for a long time by this point, but it wasn't until Napster that digital music really hit the masses.

    Napster was simple to use. You booted up the application, typed the name of the artist/song/album you wanted into a search box, and the program would display all the users who had what you wanted. Sounds highly illegal, right? That's because it was, but at the time legal alternatives in the digital space weren't really available. A long legal battle ensued but the damage was done and most users had grown accustomed in obtaining music in this fashion. Programs like Kazaa and Rhaposdy popped up and worked in the same fashion as Napster had. The idea of everyone getting free music may sound great to you, but piracy was never an elegant solution. Files were often misnamed, sometimes on purpose and sometimes just to screw with the downloader. Quality was all over the place with CD rips of lesser known songs sometimes being a rarity.

    Speaking of CD rips, that was the legal and most reliable method of getting MP3s for your library back then. Yes, we would actually go to the store, buy a CD for $15-$20, put it in our computers CD drive, and have it "rip" the songs from your CD to an MP3 format over the course of 20 minutes. It was tedious but thanks to the many fans who took this route the music industry managed to survive the millions of users who used Napster and its ilk. Nowadays things are more of a happy medium for both the consumer and the industry, with the various stream services being affordable and tying into merchandising and touring which is where the artists stand to make a solid revenue stream. Apple and iTunes have made buying music easier than ever, leading the way for digital sales of albums to be more popular than they've ever been. It may not be as cheap as the age of ignorant piracy, but it sure as hell is a lot more convenient.
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