From Phonographs to Spotify: A Brief History of the Music Industry

From Phonographs to Spotify: A Brief History of the Music Industry

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What happens when you take one of the most-streamed songs of all time, say, Drake's "One Dance," and record it onto the oldest format of recorded music: a wax cylinder. Okay stop, not great. But fast-forward to today and a lot has changed. We no longer really own music, you just stream it. Streaming is almost entirely responsible for getting the industry back on track, but the question is now: can streaming take it back to its heyday after fundamentally changing the way we consume it? Maybe. But first let's look at how we got here. So back to that phonograph. This was the start of it all. Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow. And everywhere that Mary went, the lamb was sure to go Thomas Edison's invention meant that for the first time people could listen to music from the comfort of their homes, and it could also be shared and sold. As the phonograph's
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popularity grew a few enterprising Americans came together to form what is now known today as Columbia Records. Over the next five decades, the phonograph took different forms from this cylinder shape to flat disks until finally being replaced by In 1948, Columbia Records introduced the long-play, allowing for multiple songs on one record. Vinyl remained the dominant recording format for most of the 20th century As rock and roll, blues and country kicked off sales boomed, and albums sold out. But by the late 50s, new technology would again rock the industry. When first introduced the RCA magnetic tape wasn't a game changer, but being able to record music on a smaller device for greater portability inspired a series of innovation. Adoption by car makers ensured a quick rise in the tape's
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popularity, and by the late 60s, most cars offered 8-track players. For the first first time driving down the interstate and listening to, say, the Beatles, was possible. Road trips got a whole lot more exciting, but it would be Sony that changed the game with the iconic, yes. With the Walkman listeners could take music with them with them whenever and wherever. Around the same time, MTV launched, giving record labels an opportunity to market their music. For artists, that meant it wasn't just about the song anymore, but the ability to offer a whole artistic package. And that became a big focus for icons like Madonna and Michael Jackson. But with the rise of the digital era came the unraveling of the cassette tape. Thanks to booming CD sales, the music industry
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parties like it was, yeah, 1999. Profits peaked that year with $14.6 billion in sales in the U.S. alone. There was Nirvana and Tupac The Spice Girls, Oasis, Backstreet Boys, Britney, Mariah and Selena. Unfortunately you can only party like it's 1999 for so long. software like Software like Napster paved the way for a new era of piracy. CD sales plummeted as more and more people logged on. Free music didn't sit well with the music industry, and they fought long and expensive legal battles, eventually seeing some sites shut down. But the damage had already been done. Sharing music over the Internet was here to stay. I've got an iPod here. And true, with the introduction of the iPod and mp3 players, the industry did see a boost from digital downloads, but it wasn't enough to make up for the dwindling physical format sales And
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artists were forced to tour more to bring in the dough. Meanwhile streaming was just getting started. Some companies introduced subscription models with limited music libraries, while others, like Pandora, operated as internet radio stations with ads. But the breakthrough came in 2011. Swedish startup Spotify managed to do what the others could not--license a vast library of music. Instead of buying and owning the songs and albums, we started listening to ads or paying monthly fees in exchange for access to essentially all the music in the world. Over the following years, there was an explosion of services artists and labels now count on these services for the bulk of their profits from recorded music, while many argue that artists are not being paid enough. Although streaming is responsible for huge revenue growth in the industry, tech companies aren't yet making money from it, and it's still not clear how they will, as they continue to prioritize
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growth over profits. Plus, if history is any clue, it won't be long before new technology shakes everything up again.

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