Once upon a time everyone had to rely on physically distributed and purchased means of listening to music. It went from records to 8-track tapes, cassettes, CDs and probably a handful of off-brand, failed attempts at things that stored music data which required a “player” of sorts to produce sound. Then, in the midst of the 90s, MP3s began to emerge, revolutionizing the way music was listened to.
These compressed music files were easily stored by digital means. Songs required much less space. Cassettes and CDs still held dominance while MP3s were going through their toddler phase, but a new wind was coming.
The ways that MP3 files could be put to use are vast. They were being downloaded and synced onto devices like iPods and Zunes and taken mobile. Programs like iTunes and Amazon MP3 sell MP3 files to be used wherever.
Then, out of the haze of countless albums downloaded, came the stream. This stream wasn’t flowing with fresh water, but its contents may be more refreshing and relaxing than any freshwater flow could provide. Services like Spotify, Pandora, Soundcloud and many more began emerging. Now easier than ever, almost any song that has been released can be listened to via streaming services. Streaming is accessing media through the internet without downloading or being in possession of the actual files. It’s like borrowing a CD, except you can borrow whatever you want, whenever you want it. That means I can stow my Casio CD player and first gen iPod in the blackhole of my sock drawer and spend my days perusing the depths of online music streaming.
I remember having booklets full of dozens of CDs that I would carry around with me wherever I went. Those booklets have since then vanished. What does that mean for the physical music industry? Even digital services that allow users to purchase songs and albums to download are being affected by the vast world of music streaming. The question is raised, “Do I want to pay $10 every time I buy an album, or listen to anything I want on Spotify for free?” Of course there are limitations to many free versions of streaming services, but even with those restrictions, free, albeit ad-riddled, music sounds great.
So where does that leave the compact disc, vinyl and MP3 ownership purchases? Although vinyl is making a comeback, there is a general decline in physical music sales. Sure, you have to be connected to the internet to stream music. Ten years ago that would have been a deal breaker. Heck, even five years ago it would have been tough. But now, through 3G, 4G, and Wi-Fi in every public place imaginable, I no longer need to worry about that. Also, mobile apps make it easy to use digital radio and streaming services on smartphones. Services like iTunes and Amazon MP3 are still running hard, but the competition posed from this new way of listening to music may slowly wash them gently down the stream.