Nearly twenty years after Napster, a peer-to-peer music sharing website appeared, the music industry is still wrestling with the issue of illegal downloads and how to generate enough revenue from online streaming.
In the pre-digital era, music fans bought CDs, in huge volumes, making the music industry as profitable as newspapers. Search engines, social networks, apps and smartphones changed all of that. Turning established and profitable business models upside down as CD sales dropped as more people started to download music for free.
Record labels and artists were already protected by copyright laws. In most countries in the world, downloading for personal use or downloading and sharing intellectual property that is protected under copyright laws is illegal. Same as movies, books, and images; if a piece of work is protected under copyright law.
Are there alternatives to free downloads?
Under existing copyright laws, it didn’t take long for those early P2P file sharing websites to come under fire from record labels and artists, including Dr Dre, Metallica and Madonna. Napster went bankrupt following several failed lawsuits.
Other services soon appeared to meet consumer demand, such as LimeWire, giving people other ways to download music for free. One outcome of Napster, is its co-founder, Sean Parker, played an instrumental role in the early years of Spotify, investing $15 million, and engineering crucial partnerships with Warner, Universal Music, and Facebook. Parker still serves on Spotify’s board.
Despite the trouble, lawsuits and lost revenue streaming and downloading services caused the record industry (which was considerable, in the early 2000s), these early platforms were responding to customer demand. People didn’t want to spend money buying CDs. Digital downloads of individual songs, often in MP3 format, were the way forward.
Consumers then and now, need to know how to download music for free, and although it isn’t as easy as it once was, there are ways to download music for free. There are even ways to listen to free music online without downloading. Streaming and downloading for personal use causes fewer problems for record labels and artists these days. Fewer people download for free and the small amount of lost revenue is considered the cost of doing business. No individuals or technology companies are platforms have been hit with a lawsuit in years, although platforms, where you can download music for free, are still monitored by the industry.
Consumers preferences are changing. Instead of searching for how to download music for free, more people than ever are switching to subscription streaming services. Apple started its pivot towards a subscription service when it announced Apple Music in 2015. iTunes and the iPod started that process, giving people a legal way to buy digital albums. Amazon is in the same business. Spotify is still the market leader, with 207 million monthly active users, 96 million of whom are paying, generating nearly $6 billion in revenues. Spotify is available across every mainstream platform, with a Spotify app for Mac users (macOS and iOS).
Artists earn more from Spotify subscribers and users listening to albums than they do from radio royalties and other online sources. With a Spotify app for Mac, and either a cheap subscription or a free account – which means you are served adverts every few songs (similar to radio) – there is an alternative to free downloads.
Should you download free music?
Looking for free downloads is more harmful when people share them with others online; that way, you are sharing a product that others are paying for. Although still illegal when downloading for personal use, that isn’t much of an issue for music companies and artists.
Whether or not you take that option comes down to personal preference. However, it should be noted that every download means someone isn’t contributing to the music industry. Not only does that mean artists and everyone involved in the production of a song doesn’t get paid, it also reduces the amount record labels can invest in new artists, talent and the music we all enjoy.
Some artists, to spread their work far and wide, also offer free downloads and streaming when releasing a new song. But for most, and for consumers, the way many prefer to share and listen to music is through streaming services, whether or not you subscribe or listen to adverts. Either way – and with other online music platforms and services – you are still contributing to the creators of the music you enjoy, without needing to buy whole albums or even individual songs, or find ways to download it for free.