The relationship between technology and music is a complicated one. Recent technological innovations created new possibilities and platforms for musicians to express themselves. However, these technological advancements also changed the way we listen to music – and who we listen to. Today with the help of proxies, you can even overcome geolocation restrictions and listen to all the music out there.
MP3 Turns 25
Since it first arrived on the scene 25 years ago, the MP3 player completely changed the way most people approach music. While the first generation of MP3 players was quite expensive and limited in terms of its technical capabilities, it soon matured into an essential accessory. The iPod is the most obvious example, but while it might have reigned supreme as the most popular MP3 player, it was just one of many to hit the market at the time.
Perhaps the most revolutionary aspect of the MP3 player for most people was the simple fact that it let them have their favorite songs close by. In the 90s, people had to create compilation CDs or cassettes of their favorite tracks, which was a lot more time consuming. Ultimately, the music industry also benefited considerably from the emergence of the MP3 player. It wasn’t until it arrived that record labels had the idea of selling individual tracks to customers. Although singles had existed for some time, the ability for users to select any individual track and pay for it on its own opened up a substantial new revenue stream.
However, the iPhone definitely played a crucial role in the demise of the iPod. Nevertheless, there were many other MP3 players on the market, and the majority of them stopped getting upgrades. So, what happened to all of those other MP3 players, and why did they suddenly go out of fashion?
Why MP3 Players Went Away
Every format becomes obsolete eventually. However, MP3 is still a very widely used filetype, and it remains the go-to for most digital music. So why did the MP3 players all but disappear from people’s inventories? There are several factors at play here, although the main reason can be narrowed down to just a few key developments.
First of all, smartphones can adequately serve the role of an MP3 player for most people. With limited onboard storage in old MP3 players, it now makes sense for most people to just use their phones to play any MP3 files that they have.
Another significant factor in the demise of the MP3 is the transition to streaming services. Just as MP3 players were disruptive to the music industry when they first appeared, so too have streaming services proven to be disruptive in their own right. Most people would rather pay a monthly Spotify subscription than pay for individual tracks or albums.
The Streaming Experience
Because streaming has become the default option for most people looking to listen to music on the go, the way that we engage with streaming services is beginning to influence how people go about discovering new bands and artists.
Streaming services like Spotify offer various tools and features that are designed to help users discover new music that is similar to the music that they already like. However, they do have their limitations. For one thing, some artists are promoted more than others, meaning that they are substantially more likely to be recommended than any of their competitors.
Is This Progress?
The way that we consume music has changed substantially over the last few decades, first in response to the emergence of the MP3 player, and then due to the transition to streaming services. Both of these shifts have placed a greater emphasis on individual tracks as opposed to albums. Whether you think this change is for better or for worse, it doesn’t look like things are going to change any time soon.
The debate over whether streaming services are a net benefit for the music industry or not will rage on. However, streaming service recommendation algorithms aren’t designed to promote independent artists. They are designed to give the user more of what they want. In this regard, mainstream artists are a safer bet – even at the independent musician’s expense.