The Evolution of Music Technology

As methods of music consumption evolve, the technology needed to use it inevitably follows suit in order to fulfill the consumers’ needs. In the past couple of years, music streaming has clearly taken over all other forms of music consumption. Nielson reports that in 2015, “In any given week across America, 67% of music fans tap into the growing pipeline of streaming music…” In the United Kingdom, music streaming increased by 80% in 2015 alone. Changes in music consumption methods means increased opportunities for the creation of technology that facilitates these methods.

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Long gone are the days of separate devices whose sole purpose is to play music. There is no longer a need for record players, cassette decks, CD players, or mp3 players. These days, consumers want convenience. No one wants to carry around a phone, iPod, wallet, watch, and more, all day. Understanding this, companies like Apple have created devices that merge everything into one, easy to carry device. From your iPhone you not only can listen to your downloaded music, but stream music through whichever services you prefer. According to the PEW Research Center, 64% of younger adults, ages 18 through 29, used their smartphones to listen to music in 2015. As this percentage will inevitably grow as music streaming continues its ascent into popularity, companies are searching for new ways to capitalize off of this phenomenon.

Where Apple and other phone companies aim to eliminate some of the bulk we carry black-and-white-music-headphones-life-largearound by creating devices with multiple uses, Streamz is aiming to go even further in attempting to completely eliminate the phone in the music listening process. They, along with other similar companies, have been working on headphones that can hold and stream music on their own. Streamz has created a pair of headphones that is supported by over 150 online music sites. Users can listen to streaming services like Spotify and Pandora either through wireless Internet, or by storing music directly on to the headphones themselves. As a current music consumer, this seems like an unnecessary piece of technology as carrying a phone is not too inconvenient. Also, these are likely to be expensive headphones. The average consumer will not be willing to pay a great deal for something that is not completely essential towards the listening experience. That being said, this is how all technology starts out – people do not realize they need something until it becomes available, then they become dependent on it. Cell phones probably seemed frivolous during their conception, and now everyone relies on them. It will be interesting to see in the coming years what technology sticks as a result of music streaming.

Another industry that music evolution has affected is the automobile industry. For example, every car stereo now has Bluetooth abilities in which drivers can easily connect their cell phones and stream music as they drive. ABI Research believes that in the next year, cars will evolve further in that they will be able to directly stream music. Their pexels-photo-13781-largeresearch “predicts that almost 51m cars with live streaming capabilities will be sold worldwide by 2017.” Rara, a relatively new streaming service, has recently signed a deal with BMW in which they will offer “Europe’s first in-car, on-demand streaming service…while other systems rely on the user’s smartphone to stream audio, which is then sent to the car’s audio system, the audio stream can be sent straight to the car via its own 3G connection.” This is the first of what is sure to be a huge industry. As other, similar companies catch on, streaming services will be fighting for deals with specific car brands, as this is a great way to increase their subscriptions. As these services continue increasing their profitability, other industries will surely find ways to reap the rewards as well.

As the music world around us changes due to the increase in streaming, metadata is going to become more important than ever. When people were buying physical copies of their music, all of the information about each track was available in the CD insert. Now that music is mostly digital, a lot of this information gets lost. A digital file can only hold so much information, and more often than not, the backing services do not showcase many entities. For example, on iTunes, most songs only have the basic information available such as the artist, album, track number, genre, etc. Very important information often gets left out – things like the songwriters, the producers, the mixers, the instrument players, the locations where songs were recorded, on and on. While this information may not interest the average listener, this metadata becomes imperative to the individuals involved who should be getting paid off of the streams and purchases of their songs. Each day, more and more artists are pulling their collections from streaming services as they feel they are not getting compensated fairly. It will be interesting to see if streaming services, and consequently this new technology created to play it, will find ways to include all of the necessary metadata and ensure all artists and participants are happy with what they are getting.

Evan Stein

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