This has been a big day for digital music and how it’s changed the industry. First, in 1979, Philips demonstrated a prototype of the Compact disc player at a news conference in the Netherlands. It was the fruition of a patent filed by James Russell back in 1966, and in 1980 they standardized the format with Sony who were also working on it. By 1982, CDs were available for consumers and six years after that they were outselling LPs.
Even though compact discs were topping 900 million sold annually in the U.S. by the end of the 20th Century, their days would be somewhat numbered thanks to the internet. To whit, on this day in 2006 Canada recognized the evolving technology of music by giving out awards for gold and platinum music downloads for the first time. INXS, Coldplay and the Foo Fighters were among the initial recipients of gold “downloads”, although at the time the bar was set fairly low – 10 000 paid downloads compared to 50 000 hard copies for a gold record in the Great White North. The U.S. began a similar process the year before, giving Gwen Stefani a gold record for digital downloads of her song “Hollaback Girl.”
These days the vast majority of gold and platinum certifications are for digital purchases and more recently streaming listens on services like Spotify have been factored in, making the job of certifying a song or album “gold” or “platinum” considerably cloudier and more difficult. As of 2019, there were about 45 million CDs sold, 19 million vinyl LPs (despite the hype about a vinyl revival, current sales by dollar value are still less than 1/10th of what they were at that format’s peak, 1978), and about one million music DVDs. By comparison, 40 million digital albums and 330 million singles were downloaded but there were 60 million streaming music subscriptions. Overall, digital music sales (via download and streaming services) accounted for about eight out of every nine dollars the music recording industry took in. It all leads one to draw two conclusions. One, that the only constant in the music industry is change in how it’s delivered. And two, that popular songs will always be consumed en masse… and the industry will award those most popular.