GadgetsMusic History

Twenty-five years ago, Aerosmith changed the history of digital music but no one remembers it.

In 1994, the Internet was still a weirdly wild place, something inhabited by scientists and computer nerds. That would begin to change within a year as the rest of the world discovered the online world.

And frankly, the Internet of 1994 wasn’t terribly user-friendly. Browsers–those that existed–were horribly clunky. Connections were slow and temperamental dial-up modems. And any usable content was hard to find.

Music? This was before the rise of the MP3. Apple wouldn’t role out the iTunes music store for another nine years. Spotify was still a dozen years in the future. Yes, people were trading files, but they were huge and took forever to download. And you had to know where to go.

The record labels noticed that something was going on, but didn’t treat online music very seriously. The one guy who was paying attention was Jim Griffin, the CTO of Geffen, and the creator of the world’s first corporate intranet.

He sold through the idea that a Geffen band should experiment with offering music digitally over this new Internet thing. Aerosmith, a Geffen act, was the designated guinea pig.

On June 27, 1994, an unreleased track called “Head First” from Aerosmith’s Get a Grip sessions, was made available through CompuServe (remember them?) and the service’s 2 million customers for a two-week period.

The song was available as a stereo 4.3 MB WAV file (boy, that must have sounded good) or a smaller mono version. Given the bandwidth of the day, it took up to 90 minutes to download the song. ONE song.

Yet the nerds responded. Around 10,000 people downloaded the song during that two-week trial. The New York Times took note, too:

“At stake may be nothing less than the future of the record business. If songs are available free through a computer’s phone line, this leaves record labels, manufacturers and retailers out in the cold.

“The current state of technology makes it impractical in terms of time and computer storage space to download an entire CD, but several computer companies are working to remedy the matter.”

Read more at LouderSound.

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 38453 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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