The Streaming Era of Music

The consumption and purchasing of music have evolved throughout the years with the development of digital technology and platforms such as the internet and social media. The streaming era of music has taken over a generation of listeners providing one major factor: availability. With a monthly subscription to Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, (or other services) there’s an infinite amount of music available at your fingertips. This has changed the way people listen to and discover music. At the same time, streaming platforms have greatly affected how artists release and make albums.

This new industry has come with consequences. For instance, improper payment to artists from streaming services that host their music has been raised as an issue. As a result, artists have been caught faking their streams. Evidently, many things have come from this change, but where did it all start?

The MP3 Revolution

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The origins of music streaming services started with a domino effect following the creation of the internet. First, in 1993 the MP3 format was achieved by the Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG) which is the compression of audio into digital storage files. Also, in 1993, the IUMA (Internet Underground Music Archive) was founded to give independent artists a platform to share music and interact with fans.

The MP3 was the gateway into the late 1990s and early 2000s illegal music streaming era. Websites like Napsters began illegally leaking official music for free. As the music started to be consumed passively, the music industry searched for a way to profit off of online music distribution infrastructure. In 2001, Apple introduced the iPod and it became the most popular MP3 on the market. Inherently establishing the groundwork for the future of handheld devices.

Online Music Markets

Two years later Apple introduced the iTunes Store, an online market that allowed users to download songs and albums for flat fees. The music available was compatible with Apple devices and realigned the music streaming market in favour of Apple users and artists on the Apple platform. The layout of iTunes encouraged paying for music from the comfort of your own home while also supporting artists.

Into the middle of the 2000s, platforms like Soundcloud, Pandora and Bandcamp formed, becoming popular sites for independent artists and music streams. A large part of the success of these platforms came in the effect of being able to freely release your own music while also listening to others. However, selection was limited. Then in 2008 came Spotify, the first large streaming service that allowed free and paid subscriptions to a database of 30 million songs.

Music Streaming Applications

In 2014, Dr. Dre sold Beats to Apple for a deal worth over 3 billion dollars which led to the creation of Apple Music in 2015. In 2014, Jay-Z’s Tidal was released by a Norwegian company Asipro, becoming the big three of competition to Spotify and Apple Music. During this time, streaming was beginning to peek into the most popular way of listening to music. With the rise of social media, sharing music through streaming services and music trends took over the internet. 

This not only changed the way we listen to music but the way artists began to make music and shape albums. Since music is readily available now, albums seem to die out quicker than usual and artists don’t make a lot of money off of streams. Because of this, artists have been pressured into releasing music quicker than usual bringing down the potential quality. Replayability has become a major factor in music, generating as many streams as possible. This opened up some artists into making extra long albums and some into faking their streaming numbers from non-authentic listeners.

Social Media’s Affect of Streaming

Social media has a large effect on music trends and opinions. In fact, many artists have gotten famous for going viral on Instagram or Twitter. Everyone wants to be listening to what’s popular, so songs can blow up overnight. For example, Lil Nas X was unheard of and turned his first song into one of the most successful songs of this generation. There’s a huge difference between going to the store and buying a new album and in having the album or song on your phone the moment it drops.

Streaming has ultimately changed the way we collect music. The way we gather individual songs instead of full albums; the way we take bits and pieces instead of the bigger picture. Arguably, the condition of mass consumption has forever altered the way we ingest and interact with art, such as music.


Edited by Alia Aluma

January 28th, 2020