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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Thank You, Steve Jobs, for Making Digital Music Mostly Awesome

Posted By on Thu, Aug 25, 2011 at 8:55 AM

Steve Jobs and the iPad
  • Steve Jobs and the iPad

Steve Jobs won't be leading Apple anymore, the company announced yesterday, and that oughta leave music fans around the world a little sad. Whatever happens to Apple after him, there's no way around the fact that, in the last decade, Steve Jobs and the Cupertino outfit he led transformed the music world. And many of those changes -- not all -- were pretty great for music fans.

Quaint though it may seem now, Apple's iPod almost singlehandedly dragged the music industry out of the CD era. Remember the CD era? You stepped on them in your car, left them at your friends houses, scratched them into oblivion. iPods seemed expensive and unnecessary at first (Could you imagine the computer becoming the center of your music system? Ludicrous!), but when you got one, it was little holding a box of magic in your hands, a glowing universe of music crammed into a shiny fashion item barely the size of a deck of cards. Suddenly it became necessary (or felt like it, anyway), to travel with the entire catalogs of your favorite artists in tow, just because you could.

Jobs and Apple also get credit for pushing the idea -- a no-brainer, it seems now -- that music fans would go online and pay money for legal downloads of music. The announcement of the iTunes store was treated with skepticism by the talking heads of the day: Pay money? For music downloads? But! Huh? Now, we can't imagine the music industry without iTunes. In its wake, the album has been relegated to boutique status in favor of the single and the playlist (and artists that cater to them). (Of course, the iTunes store also accelerated the demise of many brick-and-mortar music retailers, such that we now live in a world where the biggest album of the year at first only comes out in iTunes and Best Buy.)

And then there's GarageBand, the free-on-every-Mac music production and recording suite that's become a home studio for aspiring musicians and a sketchpad for pretty much everyone. Even musicians who record in fancy studios use the software, shitty drum samples and all. It doesn't do all that much, but it doesn't require three months of training to use, either.

Most recently, there are the two big iDevices -- the Phone and the Pad -- which are continuing to change how we listen to and make music. Both (along with Apple's new iCloud service) threaten to push us straight from the era of MP3s into the era of social-minded, cloud-based streaming, when even the notion of possessing digital files of your favorite songs is outdated. And both the iPhone and its larger cousin, the iPad, also work as musical instruments. The iPad pretty much made obsolete a whole series of top-shelf electronic gear by introducing a 10-finger touchscreen computer that costs less than $500. So get used to seeing them on live stages and in recording studios already.

It was less than 10 years ago -- October, 2001 -- when the very first (five or 10GB) iPod came out. Since then we've seen the landscape of the music biz shifted irrevocably, largely by the visions of one balding, arrogant, picky, visionary vegan dude. (A dude who really loves Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and the Grateful Dead.) We can debate the merits of the changes that Steve Jobs' Apple wrought, but their tremendous magnitude is inarguable.


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