In fact, before there was Napster (launched in 1999), the harbinger of digital disruption for the music business, there was BowieNet, Bowie’s online music destination, which debuted on Sept. 1, 1998.
Noted as the first music artist created Internet Service Provider (ISP) — back in the days when even knowing what an ISP was meant you were ahead of the curve — BowieNet charged a monthly fee of $19.95 for Internet access via a customized version of Internet Explorer.
That package included news feeds (music, business, sports and finance) supplied by then search giant Lycos, access to exclusive Bowie content, and 20MB (!) of space for users to build their own custom homepages. If users wanted to keep their existing ISP, they could instead opt to pay $5.95 just for access to the exclusive content.
“I wanted to create an environment where not just my fans, but all music fans could be part of a single communitywhere vast archives of music and information could be accessed, views stated and ideas exchanged,” Bowie said at the time of the service’s launch.
The service also offered custom email addresses ([email protected] or davidbowie.co.uk) and live chats with music artists and celebrities. And as if that wasn’t ambitious enough, BowieNet also offered 3D avatar chats, a user-controllable web-connected camera for viewing live concerts and BowieNet Radio, an online radio station with Bowie as DJ. That’s right, long before Apple’s Beats 1 radio, Bowie was blazing the trail of Internet DJing while most were still struggling just to get online.
Unfortunately, as with many startup sites at the time, the site was so full of Web 1.0 bells and whistles that I (a longtime Bowie fan) found it difficult to use the site (I blame Flash, which was overused by many sites at the time) and stopped visiting. Finally, many years later in 2012, the managers of DavidBowie.com announced on Facebook that BowieNet was indeed “kaput!”
Nevertheless, like his music, music videos, personal fashion and film roles, Bowie’s legacy of inspired innovation solidly extends to the world of tech.
Today we look to services like Spotify and Tidal for the future of Internet music, but almost 20 years ago, Bowie was already off on his own planet, as usual — mostly overlooked as he peered into the future.