Beastie Boys fans are in mourning today: Adam “MCA” Yauch, a co-founder of the group, has died at the age of 47. Yauch is being remembered today as part of a group that was musically innovative—especially for blending rap and rock—but it wasn’t just in music that the Beastie Boys broke new ground.
According to a 2005 paper, the Beastie Boys were business innovators, too. The group was singled out in a study examining new trends in digital music distribution. Why? For the (relatively early) use of their official website to direct fans to iTunes. In 2004, iTunes wasn’t quite the music behemoth it is today, and fans were considerably more likely to head to a record store to buy a physical copy of a musician’s new releases. But in summer 2004, as they were promoting To the 5 Boroughs, the Beastie Boys’ site hosted digital samples of the album’s singles and linked fans to iTunes to buy the album. That, the paper notes, was an early example of bands participating in the “decoupling of digital content from the physical carrier.” It’s so commonplace now that we hardly notice it, but only a few years ago, that was a major break with music industry practice—one with consequences that are still being worked out today.