From the Phonograph to Spotify: The History of Streaming Music
19:07 11 October 2022
You wake up, you roll out of bed, you shuffle into the kitchen and you ask Alexa to start streaming your morning playlist while you brew your first cup of coffee. As Alexa serenades you with a curated song-list that you’ve personally agonized over, you lose yourself in your morning routine. Not even a decade ago, and this would sound more like the opening to a science fiction novel than it would an accurate description of millions of music-streamers every day. However, it wasn’t always as easy as asking Alexa to play your playlist, or opening up Spotify on your phone and connecting to the bluetooth system.
The story of how music streaming came to be is a long and historic one. It involves several innovations, many major breakthroughs, and a lot of creativity. Let’s jump right in.
The Earliest Days of Streaming
The earliest days of music streaming are considered to be the radio. Radio stations were the first way in which consumers could tune into popular musical selections at just about any time of day or night. There was always a radio DJ ready to add a bit of flavor and commentary to the set-list, and it completely changed the way the music industry ran.
Before the radio, there was almost no way for a music lover to know of an artist outside of who was in their local town, or going to actual live-concerts. The radio changed that, by bringing the most popular sounds nationally and internationally directly to the ears of consumers.
However, even the history of music-radio is a storied one, and involves a bit of rebellion and heroism, as is often fitting in the world of music and art.
How Napster Changed the World
Napster, despite the mountains of lawsuits that were thrown at them, actually laid the foundation for everything that a music streaming platform is today. Napster was a simple, but effective peer-to-peer file sharing system that allowed users access to millions and millions of music tracks across countless albums all for free.
Needless to say, this is also what sparked the countless lawsuits that were filed against Napster. Despite that, though, the damage was done, and the pathway forward paved for the music streaming of today.
Napster was launched in 1999, in the very earliest stages of the internet. Not even 5 years later, Apple launched the first attempt at a legal version of Napster, with some pretty strong success. This library of music is actually still alive today and is known as Apple Itunes. The predecessor to today’s Apple Music. Again, this just goes to show how incredibly impactful and influential the Napster chapter was in the history of music streaming.
Pandora Redefines Radio
Only a handful of years later in 2005, Pandora hit the scene and sought out to bring a level of unique personalization to the radio-format. Offering users a free or premium package, Pandora allowed users to create stations based on artists, songs, or genres that they enjoyed.
From there, algorithms would collect data, track listening habits, and offer users unique playlists. Some of these algorithms continue to serve as the basis for playlist and artist suggestions offered by popular music streaming services.
What Soundcloud Brought to the Table
Soundcloud added one of the last pieces of the puzzle - an ability to find and discover new and relatively unknown artists on a regular and consistent basis.
This type of new artist exposure is still unique to Soundcloud, but can certainly be seen in the discovery-pages of music streaming services like Spotify.
Spotify, Apple, Google, and Amazon
Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play, and Amazon Music are some of the most popular music streaming services on the market today. Spotify, though, was the first of these streaming-giants to really hit a bullseye when it came to developing a user-friendly music-streaming experience.
Today, over 500 million listeners are tuning into one music streaming service or another to celebrate and support their favorite artists, discover new jams, and to listen to simply find a little escape in the modern chaos.
A few Final Thoughts on the History of Music Streaming
Music streaming services make it easy and convenient for listeners to tune into their favorite songs and artists no matter where they are, or when they want to listen. For artists, this makes it extremely important to put their music where their listeners are. This will help if you need to know how to upload music to Spotify.
It wasn’t always as easy as talking to a smart-speaker and asking for your favorite playlist on repeat, but now that we’re here it’s unlikely that we ever go back. Music streaming services have drastically influenced the music industry, and will likely continue to do so long into the future.