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A very succinct history of the digital music transformation

power shift in music power shift in music
Photo credit:

Austin Kirk

In the space of just over 10 years, there’s been a profound power shift in music that’s transformed the industry. It all started with iTunes.



April 28, 2003 was a historic day for music.

Steve Jobs stood on stage in Cupertino and threw open the virtual doors to digital music in a way never seen before.

The iTunes store was born, and Jobs displayed this quote:

“The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs” – Hunter S. Thompson

Jobs helped change that, the catalyst behind a power shift in music that would see consumption dictated by the listener. Contributing to the stripped power of the lampooning self-serving fat cats that ran the industry.

The consumer agreed.

It gained such traction that a whole host of high street giants were left dead in its wake.

HMV went bankrupt; Zavvi too- consumers were insulted by the idea of leaving the comfort of their home to purchase a physical album, it seems utterly ludicrous right?

And by 2010, iTunes was the largest music retailer on the planet. By 2013, it had 435 million registered users in 119 countries.

Around the same time, another power shift in music was being brought to the fore. It would ravish the industry once more.

Spotify opened its doors in 2005, simplifying the music discovery process further. Music streaming was born.

Rather than buying songs or albums one-by-one: with a single click, services like Spotify, Deezer and Pandora allowed you to add the entire work of an artist in just one click.

Hording records that would collect dust on shelves became obsolete, championing ease of use and convenience.

It transformed our listening habits, with a power shift in music changing from ownership to access.

According to the British Phongraphic Industry (BPI). Britons alone streamed 14.8bn tracks in 2014. Double the 7.5bn of 2013.

It isn’t without its problems however. Yes, consumers and musicians (sort of) remain happy, but it isn’t profitable.

And as streaming services struggle to see a clear path to operational profitability, the perennial issue remains sustainability.

The next phase is certainly set to be interesting.


Research conducted by CompanyDebt.com