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How streaming services have changed how we listen to music

Art by Alfonso Marone

In July of 1979, a revolutionary product launched that would forever change how we listened to music: Sony’s TPS L2 Walkman. This was the first in what was soon to be a successful product line of portable cassette players by Sony. This product introduced a seemingly new concept, the idea of being able to listen to your personal selection of music on a device you could easily bring with you.

From that point we’ve had many formats and devices for the enjoyment of music. More recently, however, with the rise of cell phones and computers, music has become more conveniently accessible through streaming services. We’ve gone from a point where a personal music collection and custom mixes of music would require much more time, money, downloads, and recording compared to having it easily available to add to our own digital libraries on services like Spotify or Apple Music.

With the first physical format of music allowing for a personal library arguably being vinyl records in the late 1940s, physical music has come on a long path that has taken us to where we are now. Records were one of the first high quality forms of music media that allowed for people to buy and create their own personalized music library, and eventually attempts for a more portable medium of listening to music paved the way for audio cassettes and compact devices that could play them. Cassettes and records remained the popular form of listening to music until the invention of CDs. CDs allowed for a much higher audio quality and storage space, allowing for much longer content to be released on the format rather than having to be cut down to fit on a cassette tape or split between 2 sides of a disc as they would be on a vinyl record.

Eventually, music began to take a turn into the relatively new technology of computers. Personal computers that were more widely available for most consumers at the time could be used to download MP3 files of songs and music. MP3 files allowed for a new form of personal music devices, MP3 players. While these devices were really just made for the purpose of listening to music as most other previous music players, they were the first to do so without the need for a disc or cassette. This device arguably began to bring music into the digital age. It became even more popular with the release of the iPod in 2001, which also allowed for downloads from the recently released iTunes store. This allowed for the purchasing of music that benefited the parties involved, including record companies and artists, so they could have a legitimate form of offering their music for purchase and download. This seemed like a way to have people buy their music rather than pirating or ripping song files which was proving to be an issue when it came to MP3 file downloading and copyright laws.

Eventually the iPod paved the way for Apple's next generation of products, the iPhone. When it was announced in 2007, Steve Jobs claimed it was “ a widescreen iPod with touch controls, a revolutionary mobile phone and a breakthrough internet communicator”. He then revealed they were all the features of one new device, the iPhone. With the release of the iPhone came along music applications. These applications, such as the iTunes store, allowed users to enjoy music on their new mobile phone through their previously purchased iTunes music library. There were also new streaming services like Spotify that introduced the idea of ad supported free music streaming and subscriptions that allowed downloading music for offline listening to unlimited music, which is an idea Apple tried themselves with Apple Music. Currently, with services like this available, streaming services have become the most popular format of music listening, making physical formats seem obsolete. But how does this change the way we listen to and enjoy music?

Digital music platforms have once again made a major change in how we listen to music. There are a lot of notable aspects of how music has changed with these services. For starters, independent artists have an outlet to release their music without having to pay so much for advertising, physical releases, or even being signed onto record labels. People can gain huge audiences from viral music and social media advertising campaigns for their songs. There’s also a social aspect, whereas before people communicated about music in record stores or at concerts and clubs. Now with easy accessibility to texting and communication on cell phones, people can easily share their music with others with services like Spotify giving options to make collaborative playlists and compare their music tastes. Furthermore, artists from all generations can get an audience on these platforms, people can easily access old and new music through so in a way it allows for bands and artists to reach both new and old audiences.

Another thing made easier with digital music services is playlists. Playlists allow for a certain selection of songs to be played from your list of songs which are easily selectable from your music library which is a lot easier than the ways playlists had to be made previously. Previously playlists meant recording music from the radio to cassettes or downloading mp3s of songs with questionable legitimacy and burning them onto a custom CD, and even then there was only a certain length your playlist could be due to the storage size of the device you recorded it on. Now with a simple search on these music apps, you can easily create playlists that can seemingly stretch endlessly, and some services even scan your playlists for suggestions on what to add.

Lastly the idea of a music collection seems much easier to have nowadays, where before having a large music collection could be quite expensive purchasing CDs, vinyl records, or cassettes, your music can now all be stored on these services for a low subscription cost or even for free.

While physical music isn’t necessarily obsolete and some people are still collecting physical music like records and CDs, it’s hard to ignore the fact that these new music platforms on our devices have given us a lot of accessibility to high quality music in new ways. It allowed for changes in the music industry and opened the door for lots of new artists, listeners, and companies, to benefit from the new possibilities available with streaming services. It’s also made a huge change in the social aspects of how we share music with others. We have reached a point where music is easily accessible in a whole new way and we can only imagine the ways enjoying it will continue to evolve into the future.

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