(July 24): Stephen Witt recalls downloading thousands of bootlegged songs onto his MP3 music player in his Chicago college dorm room 20 years ago. By the time he was working in a New York hedge fund, he had hoarded more than 150,000 songs — everything from pop group ABBA to rock band ZZ Top.

“It wasn’t a desire to steal or an act of rebellion,” Witt, author of How Music Got Free, a history of digital music, tells The Edge Singapore in a recent phone interview. “I was hoarding music to impress my nerdy friends.” It wasn’t just a way to get music conveniently, he notes. “It was its own subculture.”

Two decades after peer-to-peer file sharing service Napster made piracy almost like child’s play and 15 years since Apple popularised music downloads with its iconic iPod, the legitimate digital music business is booming despite widespread stream ripping. These days, though, you do not have to be a thief to access free or cheap music in the convenience of your bedroom. Music streaming is available around-the-clock on free-to-air ad-based internet radio or for less than US$10 ($13.70) a month from the likes of Spotify, Pandora Media or Apple Music, which have an archive of almost every song ever recorded.

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