Did Steve Jobs help or hurt music?

Steve Jobs radically changed the way people buy and access music, but was the net effect of iPods and iTunes positive or negative?

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
2 min read

Perhaps the question should be, "Did Steve Jobs help or hurt the sound of music?" He did not invent digital music or MP3 players, but that didn't stop him from redefining the way people buy and listen to music.

Then again, Napster was around before iPods and iTunes, and it allowed people to amass gigantic music collections at zero cost, which I don't see as something to be proud of. Having 10,000+ songs on an iPod is one thing, but do people ever really listen to all of that music? Record labels could not compete with free music, but to his credit Jobs helped them make money from selling downloads.

Has the iPod helped or hurt music? Steve Guttenberg

That's great, but iTunes' "lossy" sound is far below CD quality. Cynics might conclude that Jobs purposely sold mediocre sound so he could resell the music again as CD-quality files in the future. That's yet to happen, but I won't be surprised when Apple starts selling high-resolution "Thriller" or "Kid A" files on iTunes. It's only a matter of time.

But iTunes' sound quality will probably get worse before it gets better. Apple's iCloud, due this fall, will allow consumers to stream music from mobile devices. Will streamed music sound as good as iTunes songs do now? I doubt it. High-resolution, or even CD-quality iTunes tracks are not going to happen any time soon. Thanks, Mr. Jobs!

CD sales peaked a few years before the iPod arrived, but I'd still credit the little player for the decline of home hi-fi. I suppose that was inevitable, because except for audiophiles, almost no one listens, really listens to music at home anymore. If you're not focused on the music, declining sound quality isn't a concern.

Apple proudly announced it had sold 10 billion songs in February, 2010 (since the very beginning of iTunes in 2001). But CD sales for just one year, 2010, were 326.2 million units. Remember, that figure is the total number of albums, and each album has a bunch of (7 to 15) tunes. That adds up to more than three billion songs a year! Apple and other download sites haven't killed off the better-sounding alternatives--CDs and LPs--yet. So while Jobs may have "saved" the music business, he hasn't had a positive net effect on the sound of music. The race to the bottom is still gaining speed.

What do you think, did Steve Jobs help or hurt music? Share your thoughts in the Comments section.