The Evolution of Sound Part I – Digital Music Consumption


With so many ways to obtain music these days, there’s never been a better time for a music lover, whatever the genre. You can fill up your music players or smartphones with music files, pay a subscription fee to stream millions of songs, or stay true to the old-school way of stuffing your house with CDs and vinyl records. Needless to say, since the dawn of the internet as an everyday commodity in the 1990s, we’ve come a long way – and so has the way music fans consume music.  Though some fans still use their turntables and CD players, but most people prefer downloading or streaming their music.  Let’s recall how our online music habits have changed over the past 20 years:

Napster, Limewire, Kazaa and Torrent

The first practice of online music started with P2P software where people can upload and download music from users, and Napster (1999) was THE platform at that time. The quality of music had a lot to be desired and the downloading speed varied with internet connections (dial-up, anyone?), but of course people didn’t say no to free music, albeit illegal. A generation of fans who have grown accustomed to this lesser sound quality emerged. Similar P2P software like Kazaa and Limewire started turning up everywhere.

As technology advanced and internet connections got better, more MP3s were downloaded and shared. Torrents emerged as a way for music fans to download media files from each other. Downloading music sparked a revolution among music fans since transferring music files among friends had never been easier and this led to the discovery of many new bands and performers. Online downloading became the primary source of obtaining music. Physical album sales were dying out. The industry had to find a way to take advantage from this new way of music consumption.

Apple and their iTunes

iTunes (2001) emerged as a media library organizer, just as Napster went out of business. In October 2000, heavy metal band Metallica was one of the first groups to sue Napster after discovering their song “I Disappear” was distributed online before its actual release. Due to massive copyright violations, Napster was shut down by court order in 2001.

iTunes Music Store was launched in 2003 and quickly became the leading platform for obtaining legal music online. The quality of music was no different than the physical product – the only difference was that it was legal. iTunes also complied with a trend which emerged from the Napster era, allowing consumers to buy individual tracks without having to purchase the entire album. At this point, portable music was coming to life and headphones-on-the-street culture was solidified.

And it just happened to be the time of the birth of social media. For the (super) young fans among us, just so you know, before Facebook and YouTube, there was MySpace.

MySpace and Soundcloud

At its roots, music has always been a social activity. A social networking site with heavy emphasis on music, MySpace (2003) bridged the gap that iTunes failed to fill, which was discovering and sharing new music.

Not only good for connecting with friends and sharing music, MySpace was also a great opportunity for emerging artists to share their music online and get some exposure. Whereas the major record labels were more concerned with monetary compensation, emerging artists were much more interested in getting exposure. Artists such Lily Allen, Sean Kingston, Owl City and the Arctic Monkeys are several artists who owe their fame to MySpace.

Soundcloud (2007) came to light with a similar concept, but focusing more on emerging artists and discovering new sounds. Just like in any type of web content, public commentary can have an impact on how people clarify what they ‘munch’. Soundcloud’s time-stamped commenting is crucial to its user experience, encouraging an audience with shared interests to express their thoughts on any given track.

Meanwhile, with faster internet connection, streaming became a ‘better’ alternative to downloading. & Pandora Radio

Streaming is often preferred to downloading due to its practicality, especially with the humongous amount of music now becoming available online, making storing everything almost impossible.

This also led to a new tendency of not owning music. When a music fan can get that Damon Albarn song anytime and anywhere, what is then the difference? It was no longer necessary to own music because it was accessible for free (or a small subscription fee) online. At this point, a lot of people find it even liberating not to own their music.

Here come streaming sites like Pandora Radio (2000) and (2002), which integrate streaming and recommendation functions to suggest music to users based on what they already listen to. uses the existing music library of a user, as well as integrating with other music streaming services to recommend music, while Pandora Radio makes recommendations based on users’ ratings of other tracks.


In early 2005, the streaming music industry was shaken by YouTube, an upload and share video website. YouTube is accessible for free in web browsers and most smart phones, and it is very easy to use. Music is easily accessible and can be shared with friends in social media. No wonder that ‘music’ is the number one content category in YouTube globally.With the likes of Psy with his Gangnam Style being spotted on YouTube it really demonstrates the power of this platform – for good and evil, depending on your views of the aforementioned artist (as of May 2015, Gangnam Style reached 2.321.708.569 views, becoming the most-watched video in all of YouTube history). But you can’t deny that it has changed the way we consume music. The success of YouTube just showed another trend emerging among the young audience that watching is the new listening.


As most things have moved into the cloud, Spotify (2006), Rdio (2010) and Google Play Music All Access (2013) are the latest and some of the most popular music streaming models on the market now. Spotify is the most successful music service for paying subscribers (all 10 million of them) thanks to royalty agreements with top record labels. The most current versions of these platforms include everything that has been successful in recent years: integration with other services including social media; the ability to share music and create playlists and unique social profiles; giving suggestions for discovering new and similar artists; and providing mobile access, all legally and for a (relatively) small fee. A remarkable music library used to be associated with shelves and shelves of vinyls and cases of CDs. Now, an imposing music library is a collective one, invisible, and stored somewhere up in the cloud. Music and the way we consume it is constantly changing, and I’m not going to attempt to predict what will come next.

Lossless Audio

If you want to listen to better-quality digital music, then FLAC and DSD files are a great way to do it. They typically use half the storage space of uncompressed music files and should sound identical to music played from a CD. Sites like primephonic are ambassadors of this supreme quality that doesn’t lose its essence.

As published by on 

04 May 2015

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