From Carl Malamud to Dr. Dre to Ev Williams: The history of web audio

When Dr. Dre sued Mega Nerd, and now famous serial-entrepreneur, Sean Parker’s Napster back in 2000, digital music distribution seemed like the biggest danger to the rapper’s fortune. Maybe the threat triggered something in the hip-hop mogul’s mind. What was once a threat became booming business for the good doctor in May when he sold Beats Music to Apple as part of a massive deal. Dre nearly became hip-hop’s first billionaire in the process, and might be the best example of how music on the web is gradually growing-up.

Meanwhile, audio storytelling on the web is still a few years behind - trapped in an extended adolescence. Sensing big opportunity for the young medium, journalists, news companies and highly skilled radio producers are getting in on what’s being called a “podcasting gold rush.” New audio apps are testing proven music discovery strategies, ambitious business models are creating what some are referring to as “the podcasting renaissance,” and everyone is trying to figure out the secrets to making traditional high-quality radio news content discoverable and sustainable for a new, all-digital generation. Nothing is certain as new players and industry giants attempt to shape the future of how we find, interact with and listen to high quality web content.

Nerd and music superstars are all over this story, and they’ve made and lost unfathomable amounts of money in the process of figuring out how to get audio distribution to work across the digital highways. Here are just a few examples of the juicy bits you'll discover in this tale:

  •  Perfectly preserved audio from the first Internet radio star's  show, “Geek of the Week.”
  •  Some immortal words from Mick Jagger during the first big Internet concert, which threatened to bring the whole system crashing down.
  • Surprising appearances from all sorts of big names - everyone from Mark Cuban and Twitter co-founder Ev Williams to Prince, the Beatles and Metallica. All have been in on the action in the past 20 years.


Interest piqued? Then check out our primer on the history of music and spoken-word audio on the Internet, which includes the aforementioned moments plus much more:


More podcasts and audio on the Web stories:


About the author

Neil Holt

Graduate Fellow

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