The State of Music: From Physical Sales to Digital Streaming

As the technology landscape grows larger, the state of music changes from the physical to the digital. From being able to see the cassette or CD spin round, to now holding our entire music libraries or accessing them via Internet/Cloud-storage is definitely a sign of the times. What this means for us as the listener, the artist and those behind these platforms, varies upon each release and public perception.

As the Cassette Turns

Can you remember your first piece of music? I can. I was about five or six, and received two cassettes: Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing)” and Celine Dion & R. Kelly’s “I Am Your Angel.” That was back when record labels still released entire tapes for one promotional single, and the music quality never wavered. The art of the tangible is a real thing for some people, as being able to see, hold and interact with something gives it meaning. For music aficionados, may it be a vinyl record, tape or CD, having this and being able to find them (I was lucky to find some gems even in our local library), is highly important. With the release of the mp3 player, companies were dangling “unlimited access” in our faces. Some took the bait, finding no qualms with paying either $1.99 for a single song on iTunes, taking time and transferring their music libraries to their devices, or being the first to have the new album at the touch of their fingers. The rise of the Internet in the early 2000s caused debate among fans and artists, or artists and these new and budding music platforms. “Can I find and play that song at any time or do I have to do the work to upload it myself?” “Will I receive fair compensation for making my music available this way?”

The Catch Up Chart

Of course the shift from CDs to MP3 players meant there was less focus on physical units and more on digital streaming. The smartphone made it worse, focusing on Internet access, increased storage and touch surface area. Although CD stocks dwindled or phased out, the gap between longstanding organizations such as the RIAA and Recording Academy during the rise of streaming, narrowed. Music charting systems like Billboard created additional charts determining overall positions on the Hot 100 (Digital Songs, top weekly digital sales) and Streaming Songs (top weekly radio streamed, or viral videos or songs). Music certifications like the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) now recognize digitally streamed songs for platinum or gold certifications, and among The Record Academy, could also receive various industry nominations. Artists like Macklemore, Chance the Rapper and even PSY are examples of artists that found digital popularity and made their way into traditional radio streaming.

Right Here, Right Now

We’ve gone from sharing sites like Limewire and Napster to iTunes. Tried out and fought over recommendation-streaming like Pandora, but now with so many user-curated services like Apple Music, Spotify, and Google Music, the ball is in a listener’s court. If the general public didn’t seem to lean toward the digital world with curiosity, perhaps places like FYE, the Virgin Mobile store or Borders wouldn’t be so dead.

Maybe. But because issues of copyright will always be the question in the music world, artists continue to push for more control over having their catalogue available on these services and fighting for fair compensation. Regardless of what goes on behind the scenes, the state of music today, just means some are greedy and don’t care about the backstage battles. So long as the music is available, it can be said we will be around to listen, ready to take test how unlimited our access really is. But what if simply having our music streaming this way, isn’t enough?

Perhaps in the future, an audio-implant device? Too much? Maybe.


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The State of Music: From Physical Sales to Digital Streaming. Featured Image provided by Flickr CC License.

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