Those who share a birthday with Napster—which launched June 1, 1999—are turning 17 today. It’s an age when music often means the world. How differently, though, are these digital natives hearing their favorite artists compared to listeners from decades past?
There’s always a risk of exaggerating the changes facing younger generations, but the shift undergone in this millennium feels less ephemeral and more profound than, say, transitioning from cassettes to CDs.
This is because music is now free.Before Napster, to hear whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted, you had to pay for it. Pirated music still exists, of course, but the real breakthrough for the music industry over the last decade has been free, ad-supported streaming. Vast libraries of songs ready at a click’s notice? Personally customized online radio stations? It’s all there, all the time—on car trips, in the shower, while sleeping or partying or working out or studying—and it doesn’t have an obvious cost.