The New Revolution

How Apple changed the way we receive and listen to music

Illustrator: Max Smith

Illustrator: Max Smith

When was the last time you listened to music? How did you listen to it? You’re probably listening to music as you read this article. For many years, the only way to get music was either by listening to the radio or buying physical albums, but times have changed. One company has been especially influential in making music accessible to everyone: Apple.

The computer giant, which first revolutionized the personal computer industry, dipped its feet into music in 1998 and changed it for years to come. It all started in with the release of iTunes, a program to organize and store music in MP3 format on computers. They made a splash with the iPod, a handheld device that played music without the need for CDs.

Using iTunes as a bridge from physical to digit, the iPod allowed for users to take their music wherever they wanted. And with its simple, yet sleek design, it proved to be extremely versatile, “We could listen to music constantly at times we wouldn’t have before,” said Ben Miller, a graduate professor at the University teaching New Media and Culture.

Just a few years later, the iTunes store opened its virtual doors, changing music sales for years to come. Users could now access nearly every song ever recorded with an Internet connection. A trip to the record store to get that newest (insert your favorite early 2000s band) album was no longer necessary. A virtual haven for music lovers, the iTunes store allowed them to browse, sample, and buy nearly any song from the comfort of their own beds. This created a new culture of music sharing. I personally took advantage of this by making mix CDs with my uncle and giving them to friends. This expanded our musical horizons far beyond the CD shelf.

Apple quickly became the pioneers of digital music. iTunes leveled the playing field for all musicians with standard pricing and equal space. It gave independent musicians greater opportunity to market their music. “[Apple] fundamentally changed how music is distributed,” Miller said.

Apple ran countless advertisements displaying silhouettes of people dancing in different colors with iPods. Music found a home online. Record stores began to see their sales drop, with many closing, forcing musicians to rethink how they distribute their work. Bands such as Radiohead experimented in distribution, releasing their 2007 album “In Rainbows” exclusively online, letting listeners choose how much they wanted to pay for it.

In response to the ever-growing popularity of Spotify, Pandora, and Amazon Music, Apple Music was born. The service offers access to all the music offered by competing streaming services, plus special Internet radio stations run by famous musicians and DJs. It also features Connect, a social media platform that allows artists to share content with fans. This, along with social media in general, has helped bring artists and listeners together, adding a new dimension to the way artists produce their music and perform at concerts. Unfortunately for Apple, the service lost popularity once the free trial expired and the $9.99 monthly subscription took effect.

The trends seen in the music industry can be compared to that of movies and television. “Music is 100 percent on demand on Apple Music and Spotify, just like Movies are on Netflix and Amazon movie,” Miller said. Streaming services have taken over cable, much like they have taken over CDs and digital downloads.

On demand music has helped re-shape the tastes of users, as well. It’s now much easier to explore new genres and discover bands you might not think of listening to in the past. While the playing field has evened in regards to competition, and marketing music has become far easier (through streaming sites such as SoundCloud and BandCamp), compensation for artists is far from fair.

Apple completely changed the music industry, turning away from physical CDs and putting them online. It now takes just seconds to find a song to listen to, something that could take hours or days in the past. “We have our music with us everywhere,” Miller said. “It changes our habits and makes us lazier.” While the digital revolution has put a major emphasis on the “single,” it is now much easier to dig deeper into an artist’s discography. Economically, music sales have benefited the consumer more than the musician, but when has the musician ever benefitted more than the consumer? Either way, the last 15 years have seen a major overhaul in how music is distributed and listened to. Who knows what the next 15 will bring?