Music Listening: Then and Now

Sitting in a park listening to music on your wireless speakers, you’re probably too busy enjoying the vibe to pontificate how far the music devices have come. Once upon a time, the time some of us are lucky to remember, people had to leave their houses to buy music. People would cross-out the dates on the calendar, waiting for an album to release. People would even stand in lines for hours to get their music, because believe it or not, there was a time where albums sold out.

Music listening has come a long way, from the time when dropping new music meant dropping a record on a turntable. Now, we have devices that can download music in seconds and sound systems that can complement your music in unimaginable ways.

To celebrate the way we listen to our music today, here is a rewind on how the music tech has forever changed the way we listen to our music.  


Music Listening: Phonogram

Much like streaming music services today are reshaping our relationship with music, Edison’s invention redefined the entire industry.

Interestingly, Edison visioned phonogram as an alternative to telegraph and telephone. He created phonogram as a machine to communicate through recorded voice messages. As it turns out, it worked as a music device, which he found out after testing a rhyme on the earliest prototype.

In “The Phonograph and Its Future” in an 1878 issue of the North American Review, he quoted:

“The phonograph will undoubtedly be liberally devoted to music. A song sung on the phonograph is reproduced with marvellous accuracy and power.”

He was right, within a year, pre-recorded cylinders started getting sold in the market. They became so popular. Manufacturing got improved for multiple plays and then finally vinyl appeared. Vinyl format wasn’t available until after World War II.

Not after so long, phonogram parlours opened. Listeners could pay a nickel to listen to a recording. It was a precursor to both the record store and the jukebox; it has became a milestone in the evolution of music consumption.

Broadcast Radio

Music Listening: Broadcast Radio

Although radio technology had existed long before, the alleged first commercial American radio station, KDKA, begins broadcasting in 1920. Within the next six years, more than 5 million U.S. families owned broadcast radios. Before KDKA came into the business, between 1914-1921 2X growth was seen in the selling of records. Broadcast radio consisted of around 66% of the total music streaming. The sales of records declined rapidly due to this. However, the record sales decline might have had something to do with the Great Depression beginning that same year.

Without this stance, we wouldn’t be able to listen to music on the radio today. The first time music got delivered to such a large number of listeners, was through radio broadcasting.

8 Track Tape

Music Listening: 8 Track Tape

While the radio offered plenty of stations to punch through (yes, punch as some car radios had button presets) to find something to listen to, the 8-track tape gave you freedom. For once, you were in control. Vinyl certainly wasn’t an option for a car. And the radio didn’t have much say on the what and the when of it all.

With an 8 track tape, listeners had the freedom of listening to the music they wanted to. 

The unexpected fade-ins and outs, worst performance when subjected to heat and their bulky infrastructure were some of the reasons that ruled out 8 Track Tape.

The advent of cassette tapes was the final nail in the coffin for 8 Track Tapes.


Music Listening: Cassette

So, who remembers the cassette tapes? I do. Anyone else remember holding the microphone to the radio, to have your copy of music? Ah! Memories.

In the 1970s, the medium continued growing, more options like Phillips compact cassette came around. Now, portable music started to become a thing. Cassette made its way to cars. 

In 1979, Sony debuted the first major portable cassette player: The Walkman. Sony became the first company behind the release of this life-changing piece of technology. The thing that led to the ultimate success of the device was the advertising leading up to the launch. It suggested listening to music on-the-go could improve your life. The interest, coupled with the simplicity of the product, eventually led to one of the biggest launches by Sony at the time.

Compact Discs

Music Listening: Compact Disc

Co-developed by Sony and Phillips in 1987, a CD had more storage than most of the computers back then. A CD could store 80 minutes of uncompressed music. It would only take CDs six years to surpass the vinyl sales, and in another four years, CDs killed off cassettes for good. While people loved CDs and their advanced CD players so much, yet another innovation: MP3 and Music Streaming Websites were around the corner.

MP3 Player

Music Listening: iPod

Remember some of the first MP3 players? They were thick, chunky and could only hold a handful of songs before you ran out of space. It wouldn’t be until 1998 that the first MP3 players (with 32 MB of space) were made available to the public. The technology would soon catch up and shape the way we listen to music forever. 

In 2001, Apple introduced the original iPod. It was much sleeker than all the other music players in the market at that time. Its unique controls, playlist functionality, easy syncing ability with iTunes, and of course the iTunes Music Store helped to put the iPod and its successors into millions of hands. 

iTunes made online music store a thing

Music Listening: iTunes

Apple unveiled the iTunes Store in April 2003, when the realization dawned that music could otherwise be easily transferred from online sources and CD’s to iPods. The aim of introducing the iTunes Store was to provide listeners with a legitimate source of accessing music by purchasing individual songs for as low as 99 cents per song without any subscription fees.

This became hugely popular since it not only enabled burning songs onto an unlimited number of CDs for personal use, but also allowed listening to songs on an unlimited number of iPods. Users could also play songs on various Mac computers, and use songs in any application on the Mac, including iPhoto, iMovie, and iDVD.

Spotify changed music streaming forever

Music Listening: Spotify

In 2006, a small start-up started in Sweden. Spotify developed as a platform in 2006 to tackle the problem of music piracy.

In 2008, Spotify offered the fans a free service with advertising, hoping they would upgrade to the £10 a month ad-free subscription.

Spotify lets users create, edit, and share playlists; share tracks on social media and make playlists with other users. It provides access to more than 50 million songs with the highest bitrate of 320 kbps on OGG Vorbis.

Apple Music made things better

Music Listening: Apple Music

Apple Music is a streaming service using elements of the Beats streaming service Apple purchased back in 2014. Some exclusive deals with artists like Drake, Taylor Swift and Beatles made Apple Music a go-to service for fans.

Apple Music with its 60 million songs library and music quality of 256 kbps on AAC codec makes it a perfect choice for a large number of listeners. With the introduction of live lyrics now fans can enjoy singing along with their favourite artists.

TIDAL – The best gift to Audiophiles

Music Listening: Tidal

Tidal is a music streaming service that promises to unite artists and fans. It distinguishes itself from other services by offering lossless streaming if you go all-in with a Tidal HiFi membership.

As you would expect from a FLAC service, sound quality is a lot better than Spotify and the other music streaming services. Hi-fi enthusiasts don’t need to be convinced about the benefits of FLAC over MP3 or OGG. In other words, you can experience the lossless music experience given your Headphones or Music system supports the codec. And for the iOS users 320 kbps AAC is also available, which puts Apple Music to shame.

However, TIDAL is not for a casual listener as he would be unable to sense the difference between lossless files and compressed music files. So for casual listeners or if you are someone who doesn’t own a high-end pair of headphones, my suggestion is to save your $19 a month and go for Apple Music or Spotify.

Music has been an integral part of most people’s lives. The “music gene” can be traced back to thousands of years ago with biological roots pointing towards cultural events such as tribal dances across the world that led to the inception of singing, chanting or drumming. The modern music tech is taking this feeling of music beyond the horizon.

Music is… A higher revelation than all Wisdom and Philosphy

Ludvig van beethoven

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Also check our article on Evolution of Indie Music.

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