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Do you remember the days before the internet?   Dark times, where people ran amok in the streets and the term “Be Kind, Rewind” was more than just a Jack Black comedy?

The only way people could get their fix of music at home short of playing it themselves was from CDs (or Tapes and Vinyl if you’re old school).   But then the World Wide Web came along and changed that…


Downloading Music

Downloads changed everything.   Allowing people to get all the music they could ever want without having to leave their chair.   The length and breadth of the internet made it possible to find things even more specific than ever before, meaning subgenres could thrive where they may have at one time died out from lack of a scene around them.

With Dial up meaning it took hours to download songs, CDs still clung on in there initially, but with CD sales declining, the music industry had to make the inevitable leap to downloads for their format.   Especially with the advent of broadband internet connections.

Now people could download songs in seconds.   Even people’s cars weren’t enough reason to buy CDs any more, with the vast majority of new vehicles allowing mp3 player input and the price of blank CDs being ever cheaper so people could just rip their own Mix CDs.

With this change in the industry, it was only a matter of time before records were broken…

Record Breakers

Downloads have reached ever increasing heights as the popularity of the music distribution medium grows.   With Lady Gaga recently breaking records for number of downloads (over 700,000) for her singles as well as Kings of Leon jumping in there, it shows that from Pop to Rock, the whole industry has well and truly been accepted as an online-centric marketplace.

Popular artists Radiohead spent months deciding their bit rate so people wouldn’t have to spend ages downloading their songs.   They settled just between mp3 and CD quality, and then allowed people to pay what they wanted to download their album.   The average amount received was £7 – I can’t imagine organising something like this with CD distribution.

Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” was the first ever download-only single to hit the number one spot, proving that the charts weren’t out of bounds for internet-based musicians.   This was surely a turning point for the industry, when people began realising the potential of downloads.


Legal Issues

Of course, with things this freely available, everything is open for abuse – artists have had their music pirated more since the internet than ever before.   Musicians like Metallica campaigned against it, but this is one of those things you just can’t fight – unless the entire internet is regulated (which, in all honesty, sounds like a) a really bad idea, b) impossible and c) something Hitler would do), people will always find a way to illegally spread music.

Some artists advocate it though – saying that it spreads their art further than it ever could.   In fact, some internet-savvy musicians such as popular metal band “Periphery” give out music for free just so they get the fan base that will support them from Merch and Ticket sales.


Sites that are really appreciative of Downloads

There are many sites who just wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the ability to download music online…

iTunes - Simply the most popular online music marketplace.   Thousands upon thousands of artists sell their merchandise, making a living off it – again, with the ability to find specific styles of music so easy, many artists would not be able to with only CDs at their disposal.

MySpace - Yes, it has the social networking side, but without the music side there’s no chance the site would have taken off like it did – providing musicians with fans and fans with free music, everyone was happy.

Spotify - The new wave of music accessibility – pretty much all music for free.   Streaming music through the Spotify client has become a simple way to access tunes with minimum effort searching and downloading.

So what does the future hold?   Will things like Spotify replace iTunes?   Will there always be a market for people wanting physical copies of their music, rather than having to stream or download it?

I guess in the next 10 years, when something even better inevitably pokes its head out of the music industry’s framework and changes everything again, we’ll have a whole new set of questions to ask!

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One Response to “From CD to Download – The Evolution of Distribution”

  1. I’m so very on the fence now about downloading music.

    I admit that I’ve grabbed songs online, who hasn’t?

    One thing that really hit me hard was when Simon Posford (Hallucinogen, Shpongle, Younger Brother) – my favorite musician made a very heartfelt post on the Twisted forums where he talked about how close Twisted is to becoming bankrupt – all because of pirated downloads.

    It really gave me this sort of wake up call about my habits.

    However, like I’ve always said to people, if you love the music musicians create – buy it! Buying their albums will allow them to continue to create more music – as long as record labels don’t screw them over.

    Also, I try to get out and catch concerts because I know this goes more toward the artists, a direct support.

    Downloading can be a blessing as you’ve said. It helps people find artists that you would have never of been able to just by listening to the radio. It also helps expand the fan base, much more than what they would have received by some mediocre attempt from record labels that just don’t care.

    TL;DR version:
    Support the artists you love
    Use the internet to find new music
    Go to concerts

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