The Nature of Napster

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Stop what you are doing and make a choice, right now: Spotify or Apple Music? Choose wisely; there is only one right answer. Or is there? In addition to these two platforms that are at the pinnacle of every this or that debate, there are also other music streaming services available for music consumers such as Amazon Music, SoundCloud, iHeart Radio, and so much more. With so many options to choose from and great ease in reaching any one of these platforms through the internet, our culture is far from a shortage in music availability, but without Napster, the original web-based music download service, none of these services might have ever been given the spark to ignite the flames of their existence. Launched in 1999 by teen genius Shawn Fanning and aspiring businessman Sean Parker, Napster’s short-lived premise and following caused its beginnings, popularity, and eventual demise. However, its very existence represented new opportunities for some and problems for others that changed the trajectory and thought of how the music industry had operated for a long period before Napster’s creation.

Before the short-lived era of time during which people were able to run to the beloved abomination known as Napster to download songs such as NSYNC’s “Bye Bye Bye” or Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name,” those who desired to indulge in the pleasure of listening to their favorite artists had to go through much less convenient lengths to do so. From the mid-80s to 2000s, if one wanted to enjoy the latest tunes, that individual would most likely head to the nearest store to pick up a chromatic music-playing disc called a CD. People would take these compact discs and play them in their cars, CD players, or the now iconic Walkman; they skipped over to their favorite songs for a personalized listening experience. Alternatively, if one only had access to technology that was slightly older or didn’t mind listening to an entire album from beginning to end, this individual could seek out an invention from the 60s: a magical mini box with musical magnetized tape also known as a cassette tape. Even earlier methods of listening to one’s favorite tunes included acquiring a vinyl record to play on a record player or jukebox during the 40s to 70s, a large box with a horn called a gramophone that played music on waxy cylinders in the early 1900s, a crude phonograph from late 1800s, or doing what people had done for centuries: going out and listening to a live performance.

Napster changed the way people viewed the music trade and represented various things for different people connected to music in many forms. At first, those who heard the idea of the platform through an internet chatroom from inventor Shawn Fanning didn’t believe that anyone would want to even engage in such an absurd idea. However, these people were soon proven incorrect by the millions of users who were part of the Napster community at its peak. Napster rose to such prominence that its newfound influence touched those from all corners of the music industry. For example, those who listened to and bought music were given a shiny new opportunity to discover greater quantities of different music in other genres faster and cheaper than ever before. For those who made music, Napster created a market that deviated away from a spotlight on the longer traditional album and shifted the market to a greater demand for the release of more frequent and shorter works such as EPs and singles. However, for those who sold music, this morally grey platform represented a decline in sales and a threat to copyright protections placed on these works of art. This problem for this sector of the industry would be what ultimately led to a massive lawsuit that triggered Napster’s downfall.

So, although Napster ended by collapsing on itself, its mini reign over the beginning of the Y2K era changed the way music was represented in all sectors by redefining how those who experienced the past of music viewed the entire music industry; in addition, Napster inspired the new generation of music platform creators. From the next music downloading service called iTunes to Spotify to all other platforms, Napster’s impact transcended space and time, turning the heads of those of the past towards it and acting as a beacon for those who came after it. Only one question remains about the impact Napster has today: Spotify or Apple Music? Seriously, you must choose…


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