In the late 20th century, the Internet spawned widespread sharing of digital copies of music “ripped” from commercial CDs and saved to a computer drive. Piracy was a far more significant problem for music performers and recording companies than “is it live or Memorex?”
On 28 April 2003, Apple launched its iTunes Music Store, and Steve Jobs proved to record studios that music lovers were willing to exchange dollars-for-songs. Songs, not albums.
The iTunes Music Store opened its digital doors to the public with more than 200,000 99-cent tracks from the “Big Five” record labels: BMG, EMI, Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group.
Apple had already released the iTunes app for managing digital copies of CDs and the iPod for playing that music on-the-go.
Within five years, the iTunes Music Store was the number one music retailer in the United States. “With over 50 million customers, iTunes has sold over four billion songs and features the world’s largest music catalog of over six million songs,” the company announced in a news release.
With faster Internet speeds, streaming services (“rent” versus “own”) began to supplant music downloads. On 30 June 2015, Apple launched its streaming service, Apple Music.
In 2020, Apple Music accounted for 7.6% (~$4.1 billion) of Apple’s total services revenue.
From performance to recording
The transition from live to recorded music was not greeted with universal approval.
In 1906, John Philip Sousa (composer of The Stars and Stripes Forever) declared that “music-reproducing machines” would cause us to lose our appreciation for the art of music:
The time is coming when no one will be ready to submit himself to the ennobling discipline of learning music … Everyone will have their ready made or ready pirated music in their cupboards.
Sousa worried that reducing music “to a mathematical system of megaphones, wheels, cogs, disks, cylinders” would destroy interest in live performances. The worry was not ill-considered; the phonograph did displace the piano as the “primary entertainment center” in the early 20th century home.
The segue from phonograph to tape player to iPhone (with steps in-between) had moments of dissonance, yet each technology would render the prior obsolete. Additionally, device size shrank, creating experiences that became individualized rather than communal.
What would Sousa have thought of digital recorded music, especially the ephemeral version that lives in the cloud? Would he still believe that recorded music excises its heart?
In 1906 a famous composer warned recorded music would end lullabies and turn kids in human phonographs "without soul or expression"
— Pessimists Archive (@PessimistsArc) August 26, 2020