How have things changed for music in the last 20 years? Let’s count the ways.

[This was my Sunday column for – AC]

We can blame Bill Gates for destroying the traditional music industry.

For close to a century, billions and billions were made selling pieces of plastic embedded with music to consumers. Record labels, record stores, radio stations, music magazines, and later, video channels, acted as cultural gatekeepers, only letting through a carefully vetted trickle of product.

No one realized it at the time, but when Windows 95 was released on Aug. 24, 1995, this entire international infrastructure began to crumble.

With Windows 95, the operating system had grown too large to be installed on 1.44 MB floppy discs. It could be done, of course — some version of the OS shipped with three dozen installation discs — but a more efficient format was a new thing called a CD-ROM. With nearly 700 MB of storage, Windows installs were a one-disc snap.

There was an additional expense, of course. Computers now needed a CD-ROM drive, which was essentially a CD player. It wasn’t long before people began transferring their CD collection to their computer hard drives using new ripping software like WinAmp.

As we were upgrading our computers with this new hardware, the internet hit. Those ripped tracks sitting on hard drives with ever-increasing storage capacity (and now able to hold many thousands of music files in a new format called an “MP3”) were suddenly free to roam the planet.

And when the original Napster was released into the wild on June 1, 1999, it was the beginning of the end as the universe moved from physical music product to the virtual realm. Nothing has been the same since.

With that in mind, here’s a look back at how things used to be and how they are today.

Keep reading.

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.

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