Music and Technology: From Vinyl to Streaming, What is the Future of Music?
Over the last 50 years the music industry has taken just about every turn, dip and dive possible, with a number of new genres popping up, and a constant refresh of new bands and solo artists in the charts. Of course, everyone gravitates to different music genres, which is great; music is supposed to be a personal expression and choice.
Different generations will show the evolution of music, from Elvis, The Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, to Sam Smith, Drake and Jay Z. And like the music genres, the way in which we see, hear and purchase music has all changed as well.
Although the first commercial vinyls were available from the 1930’s, they didn’t really take off until the 1950s, a defining period in music when the likes of Elvis, Burt Bacharach and a number of other legendary artists reigned supreme. The Beatles came along in 1960 and sold 1.6 billion records alone, demonstrating the popularity of the band. This also signifies the popularity and wide reach of the music industry, all thanks to technology.
More than 3.2 million vinyl records were sold in 2016, a rise of 53% on the previous year according to the BPI, which represents the music industry. By the way, if you have any old records lying around in good condition, individual records can sell from anywhere between £5,000 and £200,000+!
Fast forward to the days of mohicans, quintessential 80s fashion and another generation of influential musicians, from the likes of Michael Jackson, U2 and Prince to AC/DC and Bon Jovi. Compact cassette tapes were the dominant format of music, with the first portable music players entering the mainstream, meaning people could listen to music anywhere they wanted to for the first time.
The likes of Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Marley, Guns N’ Roses etc., were at the top of the charts, each selling between 15 and 30 million copies of their individual albums. Little did people know that in less than 10 years' time, the first blueprints for the iPod would be put together in Newcastle upon Tyne by Sir Jonathan Ive.
The 1990s saw a huge change to the music industry with the introduction of the CD. Not only did this new technology allow a better quality music listening experience, but it also came with increase storage. This new format prompted the generation of portable music players such as the legendary Sony Walkman, and would later develop into DVDs and portable DVD players. During the 1990s, consumer group Sony arguably had a monopoly over the music and technology industry with its record label, headphones, music players, televisions and electronic equipment.
Some of the largest selling albums during this time were Oasis' (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, selling 5 million copies in the UK alone and The Verve's Urban Hymns selling just over 3 million copies in the UK.
The way in which consumers listened, purchased and importantly found new music to listened to changed forever once iTunes was released to the UK (June, 2004) and the world. It was the first global music system that offered simple navigation, a simple buyer process and an innovative user interface that allowed Apple to quickly become a dominant source of global music distribution.
In 2014, there was a recorded 35 billion songs sold on iTunes, however, 2016 saw a new technology hit the mainstream, a new way to consume music which would significantly impact music downloads.
A total of 47.3 million CDs were bought in 2016, a drop of 11.7%, while downloads plummeted by 29.6% with just 18.1 million albums bought online.
Four years ago, when the download market was at its peak, that figure was 32.6 million. Now, consumers are increasingly turning to streaming services.
Behold, the newest and fastest growing technique for music consumption. With developments in cloud services and smartphones, streaming services such as Spotify, Tidal and Apple Music have contributed to a global figure of over 100 million paying customers.
An arguable downside to this is the significant decrease in downloads from iTunes and other downloadable platforms. So much so, it’s estimated to be a 20% decline year on year, which means services offering paid music downloads need to find a way to survive in these markets. Apple, for example, launched the Apple Music streaming service to combat this decline.
Additionally, with monthly subscriptions starting at around £10 per month, which allows consumers to listen to any artist or album available on the relevant platform, how much of that subscription money goes to the artists of the music? Taylor Swift has famously called out Apple and Spotify for not paying artists fairly for featuring their music; her music now isn't available on Spotify.
With iTunes, if I liked an album, I’d purchase that one album for £10 and a significant amount of that money goes to the artist. On the flipside, will streaming services allow consumers to find music they’ve never heard before, and could it actually equate to more albums downloads? It would be a nice idea, but given that a number of these streaming services offer offline streaming, the decline in downloads seems to be a consequence of the ability to stream music.
The first half of 2016 shows that total digital download sales stalled at 404.3 million compared to 531.6 million for the first half of 2015. That's a decline year on year of a whopping 23.9 percent. Meanwhile, the use of music streaming services continues to grow exponentially, with the number of audio streams almost doubling year on year. In the first half of 2015, a total of 57.5 billion audio streams were registered. In 2016, that number shot up to 113.6 billion.
In 2016, Spotify claimed to have 39 million customers, Apple Music had around 15 million, and Tidal (Jay-Z’s music service) had 5 million. Apple Music acquired an additional 1 million customers every month over its first year so if they maintain that momentum or even improve upon it, the next few years are going to be interesting in terms of which service will reign supreme.
Music is such an important part of our lives. Whether you listen to music every minute, hour, day, week or month, we all have a connection with music (especially if you play an instrument). From a consumer view, music services are becoming more swish and simpler to use, driven by technology and security improvements. For me, I’d like to think there’s room for older music formats, which is why the rise in vinyl sales is a great thing. In order for new music to be produced and freely available, artists also need to see a financial return from their fans, so creating a sustainable balance of streaming whilst fairly rewarding artists to create music is key for make this technology integrate moving forwards.