10 Ways Steve Jobs Changed Music

Steve Jobs was not only the best CEO of a generation, he was also a hardcore music geek.  That passion ended up changing everything for all of us. Here’s how.

1.  The Mac (January 1984)

Long before iTunes and iPods, there was the humble Mac.  Because it was envisioned as a creative tool, it was the first computer to really lend itself to the making of music.  It didn’t take long for it to be harnassed in the studio and onstage.  When Pro Tools appeared in 1991, the Mac soon became the heart of any recording studio.  And let’s not forget Garage Band, a simple yet powerful piece of recording software that lets anyone record anywhere.

2.  iTunes (January 2001)

In January 2001, the record industry wasn’t much interested in digital downloads.  Despite the appearance of Napster, CD sales were still climbing.  The industry thought they held all the cards and could continue to control distribution.  But Jobs convinced them that consumers wanted a la carte choices, the opportunity to buy individual songs online as opposed to plastic CDs in stores.  He must have been incredibly persuasive.  Today, iTunes is the largest retailer of music in the universe and everyone expects to be able to buy just the songs they want.  On the flip side, some blame Jobs for the death of the album, the end of the bricks-and-mortar record store and the decline of both album artwork and liner notes.

3.  The iPod (October 2001)

It would have somehow been fitting if Steve could have hung on until October 24, the tenth anniversary of the introduction of the iPod.  It wasn’t the first MP3 player, but it was certainly far, far easier to use and much, much sexier than any competitor when it appeared in the post-9/11 fog.  More than any other device (save for the original Sony Walkman), the iPod made music personal and portable.

4.  The Size of Your Music Libriary (Since 2001)

I’m willing to bet that you have more music in your possession thanks to Steve than you would have otherwise had.  With a price point of 99 cents, it was easy to make impulse purchases of songs. Because music no longer took up any space on a shelf, it was easy to accumulate.  And because you had an iPod, you could always have all your music with you no matter where you went.

5.  The Quality of Your Music Library (Since 2001)

Sure, Napster and its ilk allowed near infinite access to music, but that freedom often came with viruses, low bitrates and bad sound.  I somehow think that the uniform quality of iTunes files elevated our expectations of what to expect from digital music.

6.  How We Use Our Music Libraries (Since 2001)

We make playlists, rate songs with a star system and stream music wirelessly from our computers.  And we take our music everywhere.

7.  Headphones (Since October 2001)

The smartest thing head designer Jonathan Ive ever did was make the iPod’s earbuds white.  Every time you saw someone on the street with a pair of white wires dangling from their ears was an advertisement for the iPod.  It didn’t take long for dozens and dozens of manufacturers to get into the portable headphone business.  Today, we argue about buds vs. in-ear vs. over-ear, wired vs. Bluetooth, Beats vs. Bose.  Dr. Dre wouldn’t worth hundreds of millions today without the iPod.

8.  The End of DRM (January 2007)

The only reason the record labels went for Steve’s vision of iTunes is because Apple agreed to lock songs down with digital rights management.  At first, it was a compromise worth making.  But five years later, the landscape had changed and consumers were demanding the ability to move their music around as they wished.  In January 2007, Jobs published an open letter pushing to abolish DRM.  In the end, he got his way.  Now we can move our purchased tunes to any device we want any time we want to.

9.  The iPhone (January 2007)

People had been predicting a mobile phone with a music player imbedded within it.  Other companies tried, but it took Apple to get it right.

10.  The Beatles (November 16, 2010)

The on again-off again trademark battle with the Beatles over the name “Apple” goes back to the 80s. There were suits and counter-suits and lots of lawyers made lots of money.  But in the end, everyone made nice and Jobs and Apple were able to drag the Beatles into the digital era.  When their catalogue finally appeared for sale on iTunes, it was a momentous step forward for digital music.

I’m sure I’ve missed something in this list.  All I know is that because of Steve and Apple, music has changed for everyone.  And when you think of it, it didn’t take that long to change this much.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

2 thoughts on “10 Ways Steve Jobs Changed Music

  • October 6, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    Nice top ten Alan.

  • October 6, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    You can't credit Steve Jobs for ending DRM, it was Apple that put it in place in the first place, and other online music stores were DRM-free before the iTunes store. Also I don't see where you're going with the Beatles, having them appear on iTunes was not a revolutionary moment in music.


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