A quick history of music media
Written by Brian Dobson on 08/11/2023
The history of music media has undergone a remarkable evolution, from the early days of 78rpm records to the current era dominated by digital streaming services. This transformation not only revolutionized the way we consume music but also significantly impacted the music industry, culture, and technological advancements.
The inception of recorded music began with Emile Berliner’s invention of the gramophone and flat disc in the late 19th century. The introduction of 78rpm (revolutions per minute) records around 1898 became the standard format for decades, featuring shellac material and allowing for roughly 3 to 5 minutes of music per side. This innovation revolutionized music distribution, enabling wider access to music.
The 1948 introduction of the vinyl long-playing (LP) record by Columbia Records, which could hold around 22 minutes of music per side, marked a significant shift. This longer playtime enabled artists to create concept albums and listeners to enjoy extended musical experiences. Simultaneously, 7-inch singles also gained popularity for individual songs, giving birth to the hit single culture.
Cassettes emerged in the 1960s, providing a portable and more durable alternative to vinyl records. Invented by Philips, the compact cassette allowed for easy recording and playback and became popular due to its convenience and portability, enabling the mixtape culture and personal music collections.
The 1980s saw the rise of CDs (Compact Discs), a collaboration between Sony and Philips. CDs offered superior sound quality, durability, and longer playing time compared to cassettes and vinyl. With their digital format, they provided a platform for storing and playing music that was immune to wear and tear.
The late 1990s marked the beginning of the digital music era with the introduction of MP3s. Shawn Fanning’s Napster, launched in 1999, allowed sharing and downloading music files, sparking a revolution in how music was consumed. However, the illegal sharing of copyrighted music led to legal battles, resulting in the closure of Napster in 2001.
In 2001, Apple’s iTunes store transformed the digital music landscape by introducing a legal and user-friendly platform for purchasing individual songs or albums. This, coupled with the release of the iPod, changed the way people carried and listened to music.
The most recent and influential shift has been the advent of streaming services like Spotify, launched in 2008, and Apple Music, introduced in 2015. These services provide access to an extensive library of songs for a monthly subscription, revolutionizing the concept of music ownership. Statistically, by 2021, streaming accounted for over 83% of the music industry’s revenue, surpassing physical sales and digital downloads.
This evolution in music media has not only altered the way we consume music but also significantly impacted the music industry’s economics, revenue models, and artist compensation. From the static crackles of 78rpm records to the boundless digital streaming platforms, the journey of music media stands as a testament to human innovation, technological advancements, and changing consumer preferences.