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How David Bowie Predicted the Rise of Music on the Internet and the Fall of the Music Industry

When the Internet first started creeping into public consciousness in late 1994/early 1995, one of the first guys to dive into cyberspace (as the cool kids called it back then) was David Bowie. He founded an Internet company and began exploring the possibilities of this new virtual world. Looking back, the man made some incredibly prescient moves.


Back in 1998, Bowie ran an ISP called Bowienet, the first musician-created service provider. From Trusted Reviews:

It was initially available in North America before expanding to the rest of the world and gave users access to the internet, a customisable home page, and access to unreleased tracks.

Upon the service’s launch, a CD-Rom was sent to subscribers which featured a customised internet browser and two unreleased live Bowie tracks.

Users were also given email and 5MB of space to create and customise their own pages.

Read more here. And then there’s this from Mashable:

Many artists like to claim the mantle of being a cutting-edge artist, but the late David Bowie, a music innovator to be sure, quietly helped pioneer online music and social networks long before most musicians ever touched a computer.

In fact, before there was Napster (launched in 1999), the harbinger of digital disruption for the music business, there was BowieNet, Bowie’s online music destination, which debuted on Sept. 1, 1998.

“I wanted to create an environment where not just my fans, but all music fans could be part of a single community where vast archives of music and information could be accessed, views stated and ideas exchanged,” Bowie said at the time of the service’s launch.

And if you need more proof, try this interview with Jeremy Paxton.

The End of the Traditional Music Industry

By the end of the 90s, Bowie knew that the idea of selling pieces of plastic to music fans was reaching an end. He had no intention of going down with the ship, either. From Mashable:

In 1997, Bowie introduced “Bowie bonds.” The basic idea was that Bowie would offer people the chance to invest in money his music. As his back catalogue continued to produce cash, that money would then be passed on to the investors in the bonds.

No artist had every done this before. It represented a shrewd move by Bowie, who raised $55 million from the bonds. The tradeoff for Bowie was that he would be given a big chunk of cash immediately as opposed to the slower income from royalties over the next decade. In return, he theoretically left some money on the table over the long term.

The move inspired other artists to produce similar bonds, including James Brown and Marvin Gaye. More recently, a new startup called Fantex has been offering the chance for people to invest in professional athletes.

Continue reading. Once you’re done that, move on to this Forbes article on Bowie bonds.

“I don’t know where I’m going from here but I promise it won’t be boring.” There are so many quotes that encapsulate the astonishing creativity of David Bowie, pop music’s greatest polymath, but for the purposes of this tribute that’s a perfect start.

His death Sunday at the age of 69 from cancer, days after the launch of his final albumBlack Star and the release of his knowingly prescient single, Lazarus the video of which is now truly haunting, is a reminder that he was one of the most gifted – and restless – innovators in popular culture.

That desire to always do something new was, he once said, the result of an ‘attention deficit disorder’ and it made him not just one of the most gifted musicians of the last 50 years but also one of its most prescient businessman.

Continue reading. And if you want to go deeper into Bowie bonds, go here. And then there’s this New York Times profile on this most interesting financial instrument.

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.

Alan Cross has 38410 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

One thought on “How David Bowie Predicted the Rise of Music on the Internet and the Fall of the Music Industry

  • As interesting as this all is, Billy Idol beat him to the punch in many ways with his 1993 album CYBERPUNK.


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