A music download refers to the transferring of a music file from an Internet-facing computer or website to a user's local computer. This term encompasses both legal downloads and downloads of copyright material without permission or payment if required.
Popular examples of online music stores that sell digital singles and albums include the iTunes Store, Napster, and nimbit.Paid downloads are sometimes encoded with Digital Rights Management that restricts making extra copies of the music or play purchased songs on certain digital audio players.
Digital music sales now generate around $2 billion in revenue, with tracks available through 500 online services located in 40 countries, representing around 10 percent of the total global music market. Around the world in 2006, an estimated five billion songs, equating to 38,000 years in music were swapped on peer-to-peer websites, while 509 million were purchased online.
Music downloads offered by artists
Some artists allow their songs to be downloaded from their websites
, often as a short preview or a low quality sampling. Others have embedded services in their sites that allow purchases of their singles or albums, as demonstrated by Metallica
's official website.
The band Bomb The Music Industry!, known for their DIY punk ethic, released all five of their albums as free downloads on their website.
Solo artist Tom Fox has racked up over one million mp3 downloads since deciding to give away his music on the internet.
Other music artists, most notably Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor, have offered their music to listeners for free, sometimes in defiance of their record labels. In 2005, Nine Inch Nails released the full-length album With Teeth on their MySpace page prior to its official in-store release date. More recently, the band leaked various tracks off their album Year Zero by hiding USB flash drives in concert venues. In past years, acts such as these have been commonplace from artists who seek to get their music out to a wider market, usually by tapping the power of the Internet.
In addition to this and to music stores, peer-to-peer downloading programs or websites such as LimeWire, Kazaa, BearShare, MP3-Xtreme and many others are very popular. Additionally, Torrent file sharing is another common method of peer-to-peer transfers. There is much controversy relating to file sharing due to copyright restrictions that apply to recorded media.
Challenges to legal music downloads
Even legal music downloads have faced a number of challenges from artists, record labels and the Recording Industry Association of America
. In July 2007, the Universal Music Group decided not to renew their long term contracts with iTunes. This legal challenge was primarily based upon the issue of pricing of songs, as Universal wanted to be able to charge more or less depending on the artist, a shift away from iTunes' standard 99 cents per song pricing. Many industry leaders feel that this is only the first of many show-downs between Steve Jobs
and the various record labels.
Legal music downloads were first compiled by Billboard
in 2003, but they didn't gain mainstream acceptance in the United States until around February 2005, when digital sales for singles started to be included in the Billboard Hot 100
and other Billboard charts. In the year before, the Hot 100 chart was similar to the Hot 100 Airplay
chart, because only minor CD-single sales affected the chart. The inclusion of digital singles has immensely helped many songs chart and peak higher, in some cases in the absence of a radio release.
Single certifications were introduced in February 2005. Songs that sell a certain number of copies are often certified by the RIAA with the permission of the artist and the record company.
The UK Official Download Chart
was launched on 1 September 2004
, and included any Permanent Digital Download track, under 10 minutes long, being sold for a minimum price of 40p (0.4 GBP
). In January 2005, downloaded tracks outsold physical singles for the first time in UK music history, prompting The Official UK Charts Company
to begin to incorporate downloads for the first time into the UK Singles Chart
on 17 April 2005
, at which time Radio 1 stopped broadcasting the separate download chart, although the chart is still compiled. Initially this was on condition that the song must have a physical media release at the same time; this rule was fully lifted on 1 January 2007
meaning all download sales are now eligible in the chart.
In November 2005, the record for the best-selling digital single in the United States was held by Gwen Stefani
's "Hollaback Girl
", which has sold over one million downloads, making it the first song to achieve diamond download status. Since then, "Low
" by Flo Rida
has overcome it in terms of sales to become the bestselling digital single, with sales of over 4 million. The highest week sales was held by "Gold Digger
" by Kanye West
. It is now held by "Low
" by rapper Flo Rida
when the single sold 470,000 downloads one week in January 2008, certifying the single double platinum in just one week. The single beat the previous record holder, Fergie
's 2006 single "Fergalicious
". The underground dance music scene has not been left out either with the digital download network Beatport.com hitting its one million download mark in 2005.
Japan has the highest amount of digital downloads sold in the world. The highest selling digital single in Japan, and the world, is "Flavor Of Life
" by Utada Hikaru
with 7.7 million legal downloads.