Sixty years ago, workers who squeezed records and cut grooves in pieces of vinyl plastic never imagined the idea of playing millions of songs out of thin air. As technology advances, so does the route by which people listen to music. Records gave way to cassettes, cassettes gave way to CDs, and CDs gave way to iPods.
Cassettes were one of the first multimedia devices that allowed users to create a personalized set of their favorite songs on a single storage device.
Mixtapes helped bring new music to the rhythm of the common cold. In the 1980s, mixtapes were the most prominent in teen culture. For the first time, artists could record and distribute their music independently of a major record company. It was now easier than ever to share new music with friends. Teenagers locked in their bedrooms were mixing and recording music on cassettes from any musical source they could get their hands on, like an alchemist mixing chemicals to make their elixirs.
The ’80s and’ 90s mixtapes can be compared to making a playlist on Spotify and sharing the link with all your friends. With cassettes, the ease of creating your own playlist with your own music was available to almost everyone with a tape recorder.
The concept of music streaming did not come out of nowhere. Spotify is one of the first companies to successfully combine high-quality audio streaming with such a low subscription cost. However, it wouldn’t be what it is today without a few other landmark events in the history of music streaming. Going back to the birth of music streaming, there is one major source of influence: Napster.
Originally founded by Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker in 1999, Napster focused on peer to peer file sharing, which allowed users to share mp3 files of music they had on their computers with other Napster users. . Before Napster, if consumers wanted a song by a particular artist, they had to buy the CD at full price at the local record store; it was the same for the recordings.
With the rise of Napster, anyone had the ability to download any song, all for the low cost of nothing. Although this was an incredibly revolutionary idea at the time, the recording industry was not very keen on losing all of its profits and artists like Metallica were very unhappy with the idea of stream music.
A war ensued between Napster and the recording industry, which eventually made its way to the Supreme Court. Dozens of record companies – Atlantic, Motown, Sony, Geffen, and Capitol, among others – have sued Napster for copyright infringement along with various other claims, causing Napster to shut down their servers.
But the idea of streaming music had taken hold of millions of people’s heads. Even though Napster was forced to shut down, the damage to the recording industry was already done and Napster’s impact on the music streaming industry prompted many other companies to follow in its path.
Around the same time, Pandora Radio had a feature that is currently appealing to Spotify users. Pandora made a name for itself in 2000 with a unique feature available on its platform that recommended music to customers based on the music they listen to through favorite stations. A user could discover new music quite easily with Pandora’s discovery system. Recommendations can be made by the Pandora program by “liking” or “hating” a track. The program would then be able to find more songs that match certain criteria based on the previous songs and artists. Modern streaming services like Spotify would take this idea and expand it even further.
From the early to mid-2000s, as CD sales plummeted, the rate of illegal music downloads increased dramatically. Built from the work of Napster, Myspace was a major social media site that paved the way for a plethora of music streaming services. Myspace started out as a first social media platform and then became a hub for bands and artists to publish their music to the general public.
Myspace has become the place where musicians uploaded all of their own songs to be discovered by a huge audience of new listeners around the world. The Arctic Monkeys are one of the most prominent bands who can thank Myspace and other file-sharing sites for the success of their debut album, “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not.” Their first album is still the best-selling. first album by a group in British music history due to the buzz generated on these social media sites. Myspace played a monumental role in the discovery of new music in the pre-streaming era of the early 2000s.
Only a year apart, but in the same location, Spotify and SoundCloud were founded in Stockholm, Sweden and continue to be among the most prominent music streaming companies to this day. According to Statista, Spotify, Apple Music and Soundcloud are the main sources of music listening today. Specifically, Spotify and SoundCloud each have a unique aspect of their service that takes music discovery and sharing further than ever before.
As easy as it is to discover new music on streaming services, it’s just as easy for artists to post their music to SoundCloud for everyone to listen to. SoundCloud’s accessibility for artists, coupled with the ease of discovering new music, has become the perfect storm for SoundCloud rappers to explode into mainstream audiences. Young, emerging artists have embraced the raw and straightforward nature of SoundCloud creating tracks that have created a new genre in hip-hop. The insertion of SoundCloud rappers into the mainstream has given birth to two entirely new subgenres: rap mumble and rap emo. Regardless of the public opinion on mumble rap, there is no doubt that it has changed the way modern hip hop is created, consumed and distributed; especially after popular artists like Post Malone, Lil Uzi Vert, XXXTentacion, Travis Scott and Kodak Black started posting tracks on SoundCloud.
With the variety of music streaming services today, it is remarkable that we now have the ability to get high quality audio playback on almost any mobile device, computer or tablet for such a low cost. Spotify, Apple Music, and SoundCloud have earned their status as household names in the music industry and have become the leading music streaming services for many music and podcast listeners.
Spotify and SoundCloud both have their own strengths and weaknesses. Spotify’s variety and vast music library triumphs over Soundcloud. SoundCloud is often littered with song covers and doesn’t have a substantial number of podcasts, compared to Apple Music and Spotify, but its advantage is that an artist can freely post their own songs and remixes. Live versions of songs recorded throughout the band’s tour, as well as remixes of favorite songs from other artists, feature heavily in SoundCloud’s extensive library. SoundCloud looks a lot like the start of Myspace because of its open space that allows artists to post freely.
Spotify and other music streaming software have changed the way people listen to music for the better with immense accessibility on all devices. Millions of people have switched to Spotify as their primary source of music consumption due to the large amount of music available at their fingertips and its ease of use. With Spotify, you have the ability to stream any song from any year, genre, and artist in just seconds. The quality of the stream is very important and Spotify has found the right place to make its service affordable with high quality playing music.
Spotify understands the previously mentioned idea of creating playlists of your favorite music to share with your friends and family. Their algorithm for creating playlists based on your specific musical tastes makes new music and artists much easier to discover. From their professionally curated playlists like “Ultimate Indie” and “Coffee Table Jazz” to your shower dance playlist, everything is accessible to all Spotify users. Spotify’s unique “Discover Weekly” playlist continues to be the best music discovery feature of any streaming service. This sets them apart from all the other competitors in the market. Now Spotify doesn’t pump Soilent Green, but they take the songs you listen to and record, and the billions of playlists that everyone else has created, and cross them over. Your “taste profile” is combined with similar songs to sift through songs that you haven’t heard but that meet a certain criteria based on what you usually listen to. So the next time you find a song you like on your Discover Weekly playlist, be sure to thank the person sitting next to you.
With each new technological advancement, improvements in the way we listen to music seem to follow closely behind. Music streaming continues to be the primary way people choose to listen to their music. Thanks to smartphones and apps, the need for a music library on your phone is almost considered obsolete. Spotify, Soundcloud, and other streaming services do away with the idea that all the songs you want to listen to should be downloaded right to your phone.
With streaming services currently meeting all of your audio needs, it will be interesting to see how much improvement can be made in music streaming and storage devices. We’ve come this far already with so much history and development leading up to music streaming. It will be interesting to see what endures and what is abandoned in the way we listen to music over the next 15 years.
Quinn He can be reached at [email protected]