Digital music: a look at music consumption and possession over a 30 year period

It’s hard to remember a time when things weren’t digital. Today everything is: photos, books, movies, television shows and of course music. Subscription-based digital music platforms like Pandora boast over 800,000 uniquely analyzed songs to which consumers can access whenever and from wherever they like. A model like Pandora enables us to listen to the music without ever purchasing it, or even storing it for that matter. This new wave of “renting” music has become increasingly more popular. According to Businessweek writer, Peter Burrows: “That’s what many music fans seem to want.” However, this new distribution model for distributing music does have a history with a tainted past that began around the turn of last century in 1999.

Peer to peer sharing platform Napster forever changed the game for music distribution when it went live in 1999. With Napster, you could now download and/or share any song in .MP3 format. It was usually done with people around the world you didn’t actually know. Those people opened up their computer’s music library to you and you opened up your computer’s music library to them- hence the phrase peer-to-peer sharing. This new way of distributing music introduced a huge change in both how we consume and distribute music. New listening habits were formed because of Napster, allowing people to bypass ever buying a physical CD ever again.

In contrast, when the first music CD was produced and made available in November of 1982, Sony’s CDP-101 player cost approximately $900 with the CDs themselves averaging around $33.  Nearly thirty years ago, music distribution outside of a “tape” or “record” was very expensive and not easy to do. No one had CD burners then, and very few of us (or even our parents) had one of these CD players. It wasn’t until they were made commercially affordable that it caught on in a mainstream way.

I wish to look at the evolution of digital distribution and how it has completely changed the way we listen to and store music. My paper will discuss why there was a demand for it to be set free from the confines of compact discs and disc players and we’ll look at the important parts in time over the last 30 years that have allowed for this to take place. I will also explore this new notion of “renting vs. owning,” and what this means for the future of personal music possession.


Burrows, P. (2007). Stars are aligning for subscription music. BusinessWeek, (4063), 066-067. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.


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