Back in 1999, getting music was as easy as hopping onto Napster and downloading your favorite songs in seconds. Today, well… it’s still that easy. But it’s been a bumpy ride.

Back in 1999, getting music was as easy as hopping onto Napster and downloading your favorite songs in seconds. Today, well… it’s still that easy. But it’s been a bumpy ride.

Napster was one of the first free online mp3 sharing services, which was later ruled to be in violation of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act after the RIAA sued the service for infringement. Bands like Metallica vocalized against Napster at the cost of lowering their reputation in the public eye; it’s largely considered “uncool” to sue and complain about file sharing. Still, the courts did have a point. Album sales were on the decline and listeners were getting a lot of valuable music for free. To the dismay of millions, Napster had to go. Cue sad trumpet noise.

Soon after, a few years worth of copycats came right back up in Napster’s place. Remember Morpheus? Kazaa? Limewire? They each had their 15 minutes until the RIAA decided to take a new, very wrong approach: sue the bejesus out of anyone illegally downloading music, from college students to 12-year-olds. I imagine this made for some interesting court cases.

The RIAA made a mistake; the industry was clearly heading towards digital, and instead of compromising and finding a way to work with the trend, they fought it by suing young people for hundreds of thousands in damages. Looking at the big picture, it was a minor speed bump in an otherwise unstoppable digital migration.

Then in 2003 came the iTunes Store, the legal alternative to pirating which, for the first time, allowed customers to purchase single tracks without having to buy an entire album. The online music shop celebrated its 10 billionth song downloaded in February 2010 – an impressive milestone for a fledgling music industry.

Fast-forward to 2011. We still have the iTunes Store, but we also have dozens of new streaming services like Spotify (stream any song you want from an enormous catalogue), Pandora (creates a radio station for you based on music you like), and Turntable.fm (a virtual music room in which you can listen to others DJ or be the DJ yourself). Many of these new services are free while also offering monthly subscription-based payment plans.

Other music downloading services like Rhapsody, Amazon MP3, and Napster offer similar pay-per-track plans like iTunes. Facebook is also famously looking to get into the music game, and many are eager to see what Zuck can bring to the table. Amongst all these options for legal, high quality music, it’s clear that the biz is finally learning to get along online. While pirates are still out there, getting music instantly, legally, and at a reasonable price is certainly easier than it’s ever been. So how do you (legally!) get your music?