Digital Music Consumption – Theoretical Framework

Project Question

How has digital music consumption changed over the last thirty years? What supervening social necessities lead to its evolution from Compact Disc to .MP3 to online streaming? It’s this evolution of music over this timeframe that I’ve focused my project on.


The framework for my project is centered on the course theory of Winston. I plan to argue that the supervening social necessity that brought us from CD players to peer-to-peer .mp3 file sharing was the personal computer, coupled with household Internet access. Personal computers and Internet access slowly began to change the way we consume music. I believe personal computers became the conduit to a whole host of innovations that the music industry could not foresee. In essence, personal computers played the role of technology and change that lead to a whole host of new ways to consume music: peer-to-peer sharing, home CD burning etc.

Christensen’s theory of new-market disruption also plays a huge role in my analysis of music consumption. The music industry initially viewed website (1999) to be a ‘trivial’ technology at first – but it turned out to be industry changing. High-speed Internet and personal computers, particularly those with the ability to transfer the contents of a CD to a hard drive, became the disruptive technology that lead to further music piracy and online distribution. This would ultimately help disrupt the music industry altogether.

Timeline developments

As I alluded to above, the most important development in digital music consumption was the advancement of the personal computer. As soon as software was introduced to play music on PCs, innovation was sent on an uphill trajectory that was and continues to be advancing at light speed. It’s this technological innovation that slowly began to pull us away from our stereo systems (starting in the mid-90s) and eventually bring us to our computers, laptops and MP3 players to listen to music.

The second most important development was the availability of the Internet for home use. Not just broadband either – plenty of users were still on dialup accessing P2P networks at the turn of the century for music. The Internet played a huge role in changing the behaviors of how we listen to music – and it continues to do so.

The third development on my timeline is the introduction of the portable MP3 player. When Apple introduced the first iPod in 2001, the music industry was forever shaken up. While they weren’t the first to come out with such a device, they did help catapult it into near worldwide adoption with the pairing of it and iTunes. I will look at how the MP3 player forever changed behaviors and opened up the doors for even more technologies like the iPhone, iPad touch and the iPad. These latter devices, all now Wi-Fi enabled, allow users to access music services ‘in the cloud’ for free and paid subscriptions.

The final part of my project will focus on the future of digital music consumption with some dialogue on how the cloud is affecting and paving the way for new ways to consume music. I will discuss how we seem to be steering ever more towards paid subscription models for music to be accessed at any time. We are in this timeline now, but it’s going to evolve even more with some of the futuristic models I will suggest towards the end of my paper.

Wireframe for Past, Present and Future


Hardcopies. Music consumed with CD players on large, bulky stereo systems. Expensive. Not portable. Pre-personal computers and Internet.


Electronic copies. Stored by us still in external drives, our hard drives etc. Shared via peer-to-peer. Purchased via iTunes, Amazon, etc. Devices – iPod, iPhone, iPad, etc.

Music is rented – subscription based. Listen to what you want, when you want – Pandora, Grooveshark, etc.


All stored in the cloud. Music is rented. Subscription based. Listen to what you want, when you want. Instant gratification at the touch of a button, or via voice command in your house or automobile. Neighborhood digital libraries accessible via Wi-Fi – to house music, books, movies, television shows and more.

Partial Works Cited (still in development) 

Alexander, P. (1994). New Technology and Market Structure. Journal of Cultural Economics. 9, 113-123.

Gandhi, S. (2009, December 15). Digital Music Consuption Around the Globe. Retrieved February 4, 2010 from Forrester database.

Katz, M. (2004). Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Knopper, S. (2009). Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age. New York: Free Press.

Napster. (2010, March 2). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 18:29, March 6, 2010 (Wikipedia).

McQuivey, J. (2008, February 15).  The End of the Music Industry As We Know It. Retrieved February 4, 2010 from Forrester database.

Mulligan, M. (2010, January 15). Music Industry Meltdown: Recasting the Mold. Retrieved February 2, 2010 (Forrester Research).

Sanjek, R. (1996). Pennies From Heaven: The American Popular Music Business in the Twentieth Century. New York: De Capo Press.

UMG Recordings, Inc. v., Inc., 92 F. Supp. 2d 349 (S.D.N.Y. 2000). Winston, B. (1998). Media Technology and Society. New York: Routledge.


2 thoughts on “Digital Music Consumption – Theoretical Framework

  1. Nicely done, Eric! Did you see the news today about Google’s Music Cloud? When you talk about the future, you will need to also outline what will be required for a cloud-based future to come to pass (ie, ubiquitous connectivity).

  2. Pingback: Project Methodologies « COM546 : Evolutions

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