Monday 18 November 2019

Milestones, and men, that changed music from 1990 to present day

Apple chief Tim Cook, left, greets Bono after U2 offered iTunes customers a free download of their latest album, Songs of Innocence.
Apple chief Tim Cook, left, greets Bono after U2 offered iTunes customers a free download of their latest album, Songs of Innocence.
John Meagher

John Meagher

It is not just the music festival that has been ­utterly reinvented since Féile first got under way a quarter of a century ago, it's the entire music business too. Gone are the days when we stumped up to £20 for a new CD. Now €10-a-month buys us unlimited music on streaming services. But with all that choice comes loss, like the notion of playing an album so much the cassette broke, or the 'hard work' getting to one of the dozen-odd places nationwide where one could buy big-name concert tickets. Change came incrementally, and decisively.

1 The birth of the world wide web (1991): Tim Berners-Lee's invention forever changed the world as we knew it and would soon ensure that we could buy tickets, hear as-yet-unreleased music, watch concerts, and so on, online.

2 The creation of MP3 (1995): Karlheinz Brandenburg was an obscure German physicist who discovered that the human ear only processed about 10pc of recorded sound, thus paving the way to compressed music which is now the most common way we listen to music.

3 The formation of Napster (1998): Shawn Fanning was just 17 when he created Napster, the peer-to-peer file-sharing platform that facilitated the free and easy passage of music from one person to the next. The industry panicked and went to war with the start-up, but the horse had already bolted.

4 The dawn of iTunes (2001): A resurgent Apple, under Steve Jobs' direction, pointed the way for a legal MP3 culture, even if most record labels still had their heads deep in the sand.

5 The introduction of the iPod (2001): iTunes needed credible MP3 players, and it got one later in 2001 when Jobs introduced the small shiny white device.

6 The arrival of YouTube (2005): Ten years on and it's the first place a Google search of a song, album or performance will take you. Many artists thought it would ruin them, now they embrace the power of on-demand video.

7 The coming of Twitter (2006): The ultimate 21st century hype machine co-founded by Jack Dorsey: you didn't have to be at the Ed Sheeran concerts last weekend to feel you were there, such was the proliferation of video-clips, photos and real-time 'reviews' tweeted.

8 The first 'free' album from a major act (2007): In Rainbows, Radiohead's seventh album, was the first to be released after they left Parlophone. They made it available for download and encouraged fans to pay whatever they thought it was worth - most didn't pay a cent. Radiohead weren't so generous for their next album.

9 The development of Spotify (2008): Streaming has become a big deal this year thanks to Deezer, Tidal, Apple Music and the rest. But it's the Swedish company that still leads the charge seven years in, despite criticism from figures such as Taylor Swift.

10 The give-away album (2014): The ultimate sign that the industry was focusing on tours and merchandise and not music was provided by U2, who gave away their latest opus, Songs of Innocence, to all iTunes subscribers. Apple paid them handsomely and the most widely distributed album ever was nicely timed to coincide with their current global tour.

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