Music History

The Music Industry as We Knew It Ended Fifteen Years Ago Yesterday

It was June 1, 1999 when an under-achieving student at Northeastern University named Shawn Fanning seeded a new program he’d written to some of his online IRC friends.  He called it “Napster.”  Even though the original Napster was sued out of existence, P2P file sharing was here to stay.  The music world hasn’t been the same since.

We found Napster cool for a bunch of reasons:

  1. The labels had pretty much stopped issuing singles, forcing us to buy the entire CD for just the one song we wanted.  Not anymore.
  2. Napster allowed us to find people with similar musical tastes who, by virtue of the other stuff the were sharing, showed us a new form of music discovery.
  3. We could now acquire more music than we could ever hope to afford.

But let’s not kid ourselves.  Acquiring music this way wasn’t great.

  1. Song volumes were inconsistent.
  2. You didn’t always get the song you thought you were downloading.  And you were never sure which version of a song you were getting.
  3. If you found a song that was properly tagged with metadata, it was a miracle.
  4. Viruses.
  5. Downloading could take forever.
  6. Songs with low bitrates and bad audio quality.

Today if you’re stealing music, you’re wasting your time.  In fact, you’re in an idiot.  If you want to acquire and possess good-quality music files, there online stores that will sell them to you cheap.  Better yet, sign up to a streaming music service and get all the music you could possibly want for free–or close to it.  But neither of those options would exist today had it not been for Napster.

It’s amazing how far we’ve come in 15 years, isn’t it?  Yet at the same time, it shouldn’t have taken this long.





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 38321 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

2 thoughts on “The Music Industry as We Knew It Ended Fifteen Years Ago Yesterday

  • The music discovery aspect of Napster was amazing. I remember searching for something obscure not to download it, but just to see where it would lead me. I don’t find the streaming apps really give that same experience.

  • Napster introduced me to a TON of music, from old to the latest thing. Since I like having my own hardcopies of music I love, it ended up costing me a fair amount of money. All worth it, as far as I was/am concerned. So, there was a fair amount of “good” for the music industry out me trying out music on Napster. Napster did introduce me to people online through music, and somewhat amazingly, some became actual, real life friends, both near and halfway across the world. Where Napster was handy for me was to try out more music from artists I was hearing on the earliest of radio stations that were streaming. I bought dozens of great CDs from Australia and the UK “thanks” to Napster. The artists/albums were not available here, and to this day, I cannot buy them digitally on iTunes, etc. (blame national distribution rights).


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