The radio was invented in the 18th century and took off in popularity in the mid-1950s, when stereo was introduced. for decades, the main ways that people listened to music was either to see the performance live, buy the record, or wait for the song on the radio. Imagine the commitment this took! People could not go about their daily lives engrossed in the world of their headphones. If you wanted music, you were going to commit to it! Want to hear the latest Beatles’ record in 1964? You must buy it or request it on your radio. It took time; it took dedication. Nearly 50 years later, there is an information overload: any number of websites can expose you to more music than you can ever appreciate in five lifetimes. Is this a good thing? That is debatable.
The compact cassette tape was invented in 1962, but was low-quality and not widely used until the 1980s, when its quality exceeded that of beta-max. Until then, music piracy and music sharing was non-existent.Then, it became possible to buy the latest great record, record it onto some blank tapes, and share your new Michael Jackson album with your cheap friends. Even more upsetting to the RIAA was home-recording: Just hit the ‘record’ button on your stereo as your favorite song starts to create your own mixtape at no additional profit to the music label or the artist. This was time-consuming, but worthwhile for many young music fans.
In 1999, Napster was created as a peer-to-peer network. Acquiring new music became easier than it has ever been: it was nearly ask and you shall receive. Recordings not commercially available were suddenly up for grabs and freely traded. On one hand, it was now possible for fans to get more of the bands they love. People could expand their musical horizons and hear songs the radio did not deem worthy. Radiohead broke through with huge commercial success in 2000’s Kid A, an experimental album not full of radio-friendly singles. Of course, larger acts Madonna and Metallica were upset to the point of litigation at the leaking of unreleased material, and the site changed status. Users were scared off, and the program changed to a no-longer profitable platform. Still, new music trading programs and sites quickly replaced Napster. Currently, the average young person’s iPod has around 800 illegally-copied tracks on it.
At the end of the day, there is nothing the RIAA can do to prevent music trading. Try to encode music so that it cannot be copied, and it will be cracked. Shut down a P2P network, and a new one will replace it. Go after users and there are still hundreds of millions of other users sharing. The RIAA is fighting a losing war, and all that is left to do is adapt to the changes.