When Music Entered the Digital Age


Certain pieces of technology have a funny way of resurfacing years after being deemed antiquated. Take vinyl records, for example. Once a convenient way to buy and own music for one’s own personal enjoyment now an outdated method that is much more complex than today’s traditional processes. However, record players and vinyls alike have been making a comeback and are once again growing in popularity, perhaps due to their nostalgic nature.

With that said, today’s methods of downloading music is something that will surely live on for decades, and is now seen as the most practical way to enjoy the music you love. When and why did this happen, though? Surprisingly, very recently due to the remarkable accomplishments we’ve seen in terms of technological advancements within the past few decades.

The two most obvious factors that played into music going digital were convenience and price. Unlike vinyl records, CDs, for example (which were much smaller and made with less expensive products), were fairly inexpensive to produce on a mass scale. Combine that with $10 or so per album, and record labels that owned the copyright of said CDs saw enormous profits.

Regarding the convenience of digital downloads, online music libraries like iTunes, Spotify, and Pandora allowed users to listen to any song they wanted to for either a monthly subscription or one-time payment. Additionally, fans could purchase just a song or two for little more than a dollar rather than buying an entire album. This, however, opened the door for illegal activity and new types of theft.

Music piracy has been a hot-button issue ever since going digital. Since the emergence of digital music in the early 2000s, sales have plummeted, largely due to piracy. This also brings forth the argument that streaming services like Spotify and Pandora effectively render album sales useless. If you have every single song ever recorded at your disposal 24/7, what would be the point of paying for each album? Is iTunes the next vinyl record?

Many musicians and artists today have expressed support for downloading music as opposed to streaming it, seeing as the former actually results in profits. Even if artists as big as Metallica or Taylor Swift take this stance however, even their efforts don’t seem to be enough to end music streaming altogether. While there will always be devoted fans willing to give their favorite artists the money they deserve, there’s no denying that streaming has led to a decrease in these numbers.

The future of music sales and methods of obtainment are uncertain seeing as streaming has taken the throne, but the industry itself will almost undoubtedly continue to thrive. It’ll be interesting to see just how much technology changes how we purchase (or do not purchase) our favorite albums in the future, but for now, online streaming remains the dominant force.