Music downloads are songs or albums retrieved from an online source and transferred onto a local computer. This can be done legally, from an online store, or illegally, in the form of copying material without paying for the content or receiving the copyright holder’s permission. The iTunes store and Napster are two examples of popular online music stores that allow users to
purchase digital versions of albums or singles.
In some cases, music downloads are encoded with Digital Rights Management in order to prevent sharing and in almost all cases, music files are compressed to reduce file size and required bandwidth. This is claimed to reduce quality of sound when compared to a CD and, as a consequence, some sites offer uncompressed files. According to the Recording Industry Association of America, the RIIA, music downloads have led to a steady decline of CD sales since 2001. The International Federation for the Phonographic Industry estimated that in 2002 99% of all music files exchanged on the internet were done so illegally and that in May of that year, 500 million files were available for copying at any given time.
Illegal music downloads can be accessed from peer to peer file sharing sites such as LimeWire. On these sites users make their music libraries available for other users to download without cost. Legal versions of these sites do exist where users pay membership fees to use similar, often better quality facilities. Some of the revenue generated from the fees then goes onto record companies and artists. Napster is an example of such a site.
Another source of music downloads is an artist’s own website. Often a shortened or low quality sample of their music is available to download for free or some actually sell the music from the sites themselves. In October of 2009 Radiohead took an unusual step of allowing fans to choose ow much they paid for their album ‘In Rainbows’. As the band were not tied to a record label, they were free to sell the album from their own site and fans could pay as little as 45p for the album. The British Phonographic Industry, the BPI, the organisation that represents the UK music industry, released statistics in 2006 suggesting the annual sales of music downloads grew to 53 million in that year from zero in 2003. The organisation also claimed that 90% of single sales are now digital. Despite this, the BPI claim sales are still massively overshadowed by illegal downloads with figures showing only 1 in 20 music downloads are legal. Whilst the move by Radiohead may not be the route chosen by all bands, it is very clear the shape of the music industry has changed and is still changing dramatically. The industry must now focus
on collecting revenue from elsewhere, such as merchandise and concerts, instead of the traditional source of album and single sales. On top of this, experts predict music downloads will
cause a shift in power from record labels to individual artists as the internet offers such a wide platform for artists to independently launch their careers.