The five most important moments for digital music

  • The List
  • 7 October 2009
In Rainbows

We've come a long way baby. Just a short decade ago a MP3 player that would could hold an album (if you were lucky) would set you back a few hundred quid. Now we're listening to endless amounts of music on our iPods, phones, steam irons etc. Between Napster and Spotify there's been a light-speed acceleration in internet technology, literally rewriting the rule book for the music industry and leaving consumers happy but floundering in a sea of choice. Where did it all go wrong (or right, depending on your viewpoint)? We countdown the most significant moments that have brought us to the present day.

Napster starts it all

In 1999 Napster became first music file-sharing service to make digital downloading a viable, and illegal, option for finding new music. The end came in 2001 after a law suit from the Record Industry Association of America, though Roxio resurrected the name in 2003 in an all new legal (ie paid for) format.

iPod launched

Though Rio had dipped their toes in the digital audio player market, it was the iPod’s launch in 2001 that made an entire record collection pocket-sized. iTunes followed soon after, selling 70 million songs in its first year. That number’s now up to 4 billion in total, though half of those are Coldplay.

Watch Apple's introduction to the first ever iPod.

Downloads take over the charts

2005 saw the industry wake up to increased online purchases with downloads now contributing towards the UK Singles Chart. Gnarls Barkley became the first act to get to number one on downloads alone with ‘Crazy’ in 2006, though it’s Lady Gaga’s ‘Pokerface’ that holds the title for the UK’s most downloaded song. Technology doesn’t come with taste.

Radiohead release In Rainbows

Never ones to play it safe, Radiohead become marketing innovators on sixth album, In Rainbows by letting fans choose their own download price. Being Radiohead, millions lap it up, with an average price of £4 paid for the Grammy winning album. Contemporaries like Nine Inch Nails follow suit, though Blue are undecided.

The dark side

After copy protection on CDs proved unworkable for the big four record labels, they, along with the RIAA, take to the courts to protect their music. June 2009 saw Minnesota mother of four Jamie Thomas-Rasset ordered to pay $1.92 million for violating copyrights on 24 songs. That’s $80,000 a song. Even the one by Linkin Park.