How College Students Stole Music Until It Became Free

By Dan Guarino 
Elm Staff Writer

Band recommendations­—they’re sort of the heart and soul of just about every pretentious conversation you’re going to have at college. You run into someone wearing high top Vans at an inopportune time in the library bathroom, and before you know it you’ve got a laundry list of musicians you have to listen to. It wasn’t always like this, however.

Until around 2006, music wasn’t the free resource it is today, it was actually pretty difficult to get a hold of a lot of music. This created a disconnect, as many students are expected to keep up with popular music, but are also too poor to purchase it all. Streaming services filled this void, but how did they get to this point, and what’s the actual cost of basically unlimited cheap music?

Napster marked the advent of file sharing websites in 1999. It was a website that allowed you to connect the saved files on your computer to a network that allowed access to the files of everyone else who connected to the site. It was sort of a rudimentary streaming service where the music was supplied by the users rather than a corporation. It was also illegal, but that didn’t stop it from being one of the most popular media suppliers of the early internet.

“I think that’s what happened to the record business when Napster came around. The industry rejected what was happening instead of accepting it as change,” said Jay Z, a rapper and industry mogul, in an interview with Wired magazine.

Napster essentially traded the high cost of music for risk, and work. You no longer had to pay for music, but downloading it and finding the correct songs at good quality could take hours. For teenagers and young adults, one of the most targeted media niches, this caused another issue. The only thing they had less of than money was time.

Founded in 2006, Spotify worked to cater to the niche of the student who didn’t want to pay that much for music, but also didn’t have the time to find the immense amount of music they were expected to consume to keep up with modern tastes.

Spotify is not only the most prominently used streaming service to date, but it also has many creative marketing features geared specifically towards college students. For one, it offers a special deal in which college students get around 50 percent off, it also allows users to view their friends libraries, allowing for a naturally expanding individual library of music for each person.

“I don’t pay for my music anymore,” said Katelyn Larrimore, sophomore. “I’ve also been given a broader opportunity to view a wider variety of music. So basically I listen to more but pay for less.”

On one hand, these streaming services are immensely helpful, but on the other hand, it’s important to understand what you’re giving up by using streaming services, namely, support for your favorite artists. According to an article from Digital Music News, Spotify clocks in as the second lowest payout per stream of every streaming services, around  $0.006 to $0.0084 per play. The lowest being Pandora.

There’s probably a balance to be struck here, streaming services allow you to discover new musicians and spread music very easily, however, if you want to truly support your favorite artists, you should buy a t-shirt, or a CD.

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