With the foresight of industry veterans and young, tech savvy entrepreneurs alike, digital music innovations were a-brewin’ back then and slowly making their way to the fingertips of consumers.
We’ve put together 15 companies, services and products that we feel have changed the way we discover and consume both music and video.
- Napster (the unlicensed version)
- RioPort + Rio PMP300
#1 Napster (the unlicensed version)
Share your music with your peers and discover new music without going to the record store (or paying).
This marked the beginning of P2P file sharing for the masses, launching it into mainstream. It was easier than ever for you to find/share and listen to music at the click of a button. Its successes and pitfalls have all contributed to the growth of digital music and where it has landed today as a key source of music consumption.
One-click (legal) access to downloads from an expansive music catalogue without a subscription, with most songs priced at 99 cents.
iTunes began as a simple music player on Mac computers in January 2001. Ten months later, the iPod was introduced as a stylish way for users to take their music collection everywhere. When iTunes Music Store launched in 2003, consumers could buy any song in the world and then take it with them on their iPod. It’s been reported that in 2004 (just a few years after iTunes launched), the number of people downloading music legally was a measly 2.4 million – now, based on iTunes users alone, there are over 200 million people downloading music legally.
Suddenly every moment in everyone’s life is a YouTube video, clips from movies and TV shows are viewable on demand and every song in the world is available for streaming. All for free.
Said to have been born out of a feud that early founders had in regards to an event taking place at a dinner party that had been recorded, YouTube was created to share and view video content online. What began as user generated content (personal concert video for example) has brought major players on board to make commercial content available through your computer, instead of just through your TV. Concerts, music videos, trailers, etc. all existed, but YouTube made it easy to share and discover all of this content with your peers and with the world via your computer.
Artists flock to MP3.com where they can promote their bands, sell their music and be a part of a community.
In 1999, when MP3.com introduced the Pay for Play service, or P4P, involving an algorithm to pay each MP3.com artist on the basis of the number of streams and downloads of their songs, artists flocked to this site to push their content and promotional info to their audience. Today, MP3.com is mildly different from its original format, but in its early days was a digital music trendsetter.
Internet Radio gets even more personal with new ways to recommend music you’ll love.
With its unique recommendation algorithm and human-sourced catalogue, Pandora takes Internet radio to another level. Instead of crowdsourcing as a guide to likes/dislikes, Pandora uses a system based on musical patterns like rhythm, harmony and instrumental focus. Its user friendly and simple design made Pandora one of the most consistently downloaded apps in the Apple App Store just years after its inception.
Windows media player optimizes the way you sort, play and view content on your computer.
Winamp was launched as a player for the media on your Windows computer. It automatically pulled your media files into your “library” and became one of the first and most popular media players (and is still kicking today). There have been significant enhancements to Winamp to date, including built in sync with iPods, Winamp for Android and Sync for Mac.
Now you can stream all the music in the world for a small monthly fee.
Arguably the first on-demand streaming music subscription service when it launched in 2001, Rhapsody provided editorial for its comprehensive streaming music catalogue, that offered à la carte downloads as well. For years, The Orchard’s marketing department was addicted to Rhapsody.
Introducing a new POS for artists and labels, CDNow lays the foundation for online music consumption.
CDNow was on the scene before iTunes, before Amazon was selling music (which eventually acquired CDNow) and well before most of today’s online music retailers. In 1994, it paved the way as the top online music retailer on the Internet. This came at a time when record stores still flourished and people were still figuring out what they really thought of “the internets.” CDNow established that fans needed a new way to preview, buy and, ultimately, consume music.
MySpace becomes fundamental in band promotion and essential in music discovery and streaming.
Before Facebook there was MySpace. Back then, MySpace was the only social networking site housing personal profiles and band profiles under one roof, incubating the interaction between the two. MySpace made available thousands of songs on band pages that could be streamed and listened to unlimited amounts of times. At the height of its popularity, MySpace broke the barriers between band and fan, igniting more interaction and engagement than ever before.
On-demand pay-per-rental video delivery that allows you to manage and rent movies and TV shows online (bypassing the video store) and, now, watch movies and TV shows online, too.
Once Netflix rolled out their pay-per-rental service in 1999, it changed the way we consume video as it provided a completely different user experience – all of which was online, until the shiny disc arrived in the mail. Later in 2007, it introduced its streaming services, which took out the necessity of the physical product and embraced digital media consumption.
Founded in 1995 as an online CD retailer, eMusic launched the first download store in 1998.
Having been around for almost 20 years, eMusic has continuously evolved its model to keep up with the quickly changing music industry. Today, eMusic offers elaborate editorial with music and audiobooks available to download through subscription pricing.
So what if you don’t own it — stream it! Listen to virtually any song without having to own it.
Introduced in 2008, Spotify wasn’t the first to offer millions of songs in a legal streaming subscription offer, nor was it the first to offer an ad revenue model where users could indulge in interactive streaming for free. But, it was the first service to do all this while launching around the world and attracting millions of users.
Hulu makes streaming high-quality, mainstream, on-demand video possible, legal, and available just hours after a TV show has been broadcast.
Taking the cue from DVR and TiVo users who want to watch TV at their convenience rather than at the convenience of the networks, Hulu delivers video from major television networks to your computer on-demand. So began Hulu as a legal, major network team player who could actually deliver an incredible amount of content in a high quality, user-friendly and FREE fashion. Of course, they have a premium tier, too.
#14 RioPort + Rio PMP300
Rio introduced the first real store paired with the first MP3 player.
Looking back, it looks like a pager and iPod hybrid but it seems like the Rio PMP300 was, in fact, a prototype for the iPod. The seemingly simple concept of buying music and quickly transferring that library to a portable music player was not so smooth in the late 90’s. One portable MP3 player called the Rio PMP300 spawned one of the first digital music service providers, RioPort. It was the first digital music service to license secure, single-track commercial downloads from major record labels. Together they made it easier than ever to transfer that content from computer to portable player.
Pre-Spotify, an on-demand, music streaming service free to consumers who listen to its ads.
Hailing the “pre-Spotify” claim, Deezer created an ad-based streaming service back in 2006 in France. Often an unknown service in countries where it is unavailable, Deezer is thriving through partnerships with mobile operator Orange, Facebook and other global partners.
Now, I know my boss listens to Justin Bieber. Facebook integrates music sharing functionality.
We didn’t include Facebook in the top 15 only because it is not solely a music service. That said, we recognize that its integration with Music Apps was a huge step forward for music and social networking. With Facebook already the leader in socially sharing your personal info, status updates, pictures, etc., it was only a matter of time before they integrated a music-centric feature for its users. Since 2011, any music you listen to via Spotify, Rdio (and other music services) is published to your Facebook profile. This makes music sharing and discovery personal and this enhancement has also, in turn, been driving even more traffic to music streaming services (Ex: Spotify gained roughly 2 million users after F8 last year when they announced the new music features).
Puts music discovery in the hands of the consumer (literally) making it possible to find new tunes virtually anywhere that you can hear it.
This music discovery service is available through your mobile device and allows you to ID any song playing around you, thanks to its music fingerprinting and recognition service. Lately, Shazam has been gaining momentum as its TV integration has launched it into the digital media space.