The Apple iPod was a game-changer that disrupted several industries at once. As a portable media player it replaced the much larger, Walkman-style analogue devices with its modern 5GB Toshiba hard-drive, sleek looks and innovative interface. As a piece of technology it helped establish Apple’s ongoing ability to show the way rather than following the pack. Combined with iTunes it shifted the emphasis from albums to songs and enabled listeners to conveniently build their own playlists. For artists it broke the mould of being slaves to the record companies…who became slaves to Apple.
Released in late 2001 with a 5GB drive and a sales pitch of “1000 songs in your pocket” it was initially Mac-only and quite expensive at A$895 for the original model. But the timing was right; the internet was awash with free/illegal MP3 versions of new and old songs and the record industry was just beginning to respond with legal action to protect its copyrighted products. The second-generation of iPods saw a Windows version of iTunes and sales took off. Consumers weren’t so much shamed into abandoning their illegal stashes of downloads as bewitched by the beauty and convenience of the iPod ecosphere.
Unfortunately, everything about the iPod was superior except the sound, which maintained the presiding heavily-compressed file format of the time.
Naysayers will point the bone at the iPod digging the grave of the album and reinforcing recorded music’s paltry worth. Meanwhile, fans of the iPod will point to Steve Jobs’ love of music and how the iPod at least put some value on music and filled a void that the hand-wringing record companies simply couldn’t fill at the time.
HOW IT CHANGED THE GAME:
WHAT HASN’T IT CHANGED?
If the iPod was simply a technical marvel that put 1000 songs in your pocket, that would be enough to earn it entry into the pantheon of sound. But it was so much more. A whole generation has now been raised on the iPod — this is how music is consumed. And as those involved in the recording and distribution of music, it behoves us to understand the habits of those consuming the songs: iTunes wields enormous influence. Albums mean little to the current generation, where singles reign supreme. Record companies’ clout has been decimated. Independent artists no longer court the ‘majors’ and their subsidiaries. Big studios have all-but disappeared. Live music and big-time concert touring enjoy a renaissance. Project studios, with high quality in-the-box recording and mixing, produce much of the released music. The shape of the music, recording, and live sound industry can be seen through the prism of one device: the iPod.