The Evolution of Sound: How Are We Listening To Music Today?

Posted on by Zoe

As you can tell from the picture above, I’m a bit of a sucker for old-school music. That, and I also loved the challenge of holding a couple of decades worth of music formats in my arms!

Being the music junkie that I am, tonight I found myself rummaging through drawers, under beds and in deep, dark cupboards of my parent’s house to uncover the many ways we have listened to music through the years. As a family, music has soundtracked some of our greatest memories together. During our younger years, it used to keep us entertained on long car journeys, but as our tastes matured and developed, there would be many an evening where we’d all slowly gather into one room together playing song after song, each connecting to the last via some random memory, and turned up as high as electronically possible.

In my quest for musical artefacts from days gone by, I managed to find a record player, a couple of Sony minidiscs, three iPod generations and a modicum of carefully kept vinyl. Hundreds of CDs from the 80s, 90s and noughties currently reside on my brother’s bedroom shelves, most accompanied by fingerprints, dustmarks and carelessly scraped backs. The CD was by far the most popular and long-lived format in our household, and in many others across Britain since its introduction to the mass market in 1982.

But before the CD came the cassette tape, the last surviving music format before the digital revolution began. Though I would only ever play a choice of three cassettes on my silver Sony Walkman (I so wish I could find it!), I would always shriek and grimace whenever the ribbon got tangled and chewed up, which would result in a Pinky and Perky, sped-up sound, and Peter Andre’s voice becoming suddenly unrecognisable. Though I loved having my own Walkman cassette player as a child, and the freedom of listening to whatever I wanted without my two older brothers taking control of the car stereo, I was even happier when I received a Walkman CD player…the fear of the Pinky and Perky voices dissipated instantly!

My beloved Sony Walkman CD player received a hell of a good battering between 1997 and 2000. Hanson, Spice Girls, B*Witched and all the other classics were played in shuffle, on repeat and in tireless amounts. I was an impressionable 90s kid with earphones plugged-in as soon as school was out, often seen lugging a black, hand-me-down CD case bulging with bad, boyband bubbles that my brothers so desperately wanted to pop.

When the Sony MiniDisc arrived on the music scene, my eldest sibling, Dom, was the first of his friends to hop on the bandwagon after receiving a small, square-shaped present from my parents for Christmas. The MiniDisc promised its target audience the ability to edit tracks - a USP that hadn’t yet existed in previous formats. Sony also attempted to shift the MiniDiscs with smaller, more portable discs that weren’t as flimsy and liable to break as CDs, with all the great sound and even better technology. For my 13-year-old self, the MiniDisc was unfamiliar territory that I had no desire to explore, and unfortunately, MiniDiscs arrived on the scene too little too late. However, the Sony MiniDisc did bring us Reef, as shown in the advert above…an incredible English band who I still listen to today.

With a short and rather unsuccessful life of 4 years, the MiniDisc was soon to be usurped by the music monster in 2001…the iPod.

To say it was a revolutionary piece of technology would not be doing our cherished iPod justice, and the USP of having, initially, 1,000 songs in our pockets had music moguls around the world gasping and running to get a slice of the action. Apple’s iPod became the fastest-selling consumer object bought by internet shoppers, and as of October 2011, a total of 300 million iPods have sold worldwide. By bringing their consumers closer to the music experience, Apple were ruling the music roost, and would do for years to come.

Fast-forward to 2012, and the iPod has been revamped, redesigned and duplicated into five different models in 11 years. The 2012 line today stands as follows: the Classic, Shuffle, Nano and Touch. I used my Classic for a good few years, before downsizing to the girlier Mini (now the Nano). When the iPhone was released in 2007, I was the first in my family to replace my sturdy Nokia 3210 with the exciting new Apple phone, and quite quickly I realised that my lovely little iPod Mini was no longer needed. I decided to sell my iPod after transferring my heavily-filled iTunes library onto my iPhone, and quite sadly, I didn’t miss the iPod for a second.

iTunes has been a big part of my own music revolution, as I’m sure it has for many. As a platform for music consumption, it gave me my very first digital music library that was easily organisable, amendable and deletable at leisure. But soon, there was bound to be a competitor in the market, and in came the delectable Spotify.

Beginning as an invitation-only application to heighten the illusion of exclusivity, Spotify allowed its user to stream a vast collection of music for free, with a few ads in between songs to help cover the costs. To my friends, I became a Spotify ambassador, giving them an invitation code and letting them share the same experience that I was getting, all for free. Since Spotify became readily available on mobile for on-the-go streaming, I began a subscription of £9.99 a month for this type of music consumption freedom. Though it may sound like a lot of money just to listen to music, I really couldn’t be without it now.

Streaming has become the new way for me to listen to music on demand, without the necessity of buying and downloading mp3′s. Though I may not own the song, it’s rare that I will ever need to in this digital age, as sad a fact as that is. Though it’s satisfying to own the original on vinyl, CD or any preferred format, streaming is becoming the most popular way to consume music today. Everyone I know loves to share YouTube links with their friends, not just for speed and convenience, but because as humans, we love to share experiences with others.

Many have been arguing that music consumption has become too quick and unsatisfying, that we devour it unabashedly then become greedy for more, and that the digital revolution of music has tainted the ability to appreciate musicianship as a craft. I agree with it all - live music is still my favourite way to consume music. But I for one still cherish the notion of a music collection - it’s just looking a lot more digital nowadays!

How do you like to listen to music today? Which has been your favourite music format so far?

*This is a sponsored post in collaboration with Music Magpie.

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  • Rena

    absolutely jealous right now! favourite music format definitely vinyl/cd. but you know… iPhone comes in handy.
    stop by sometime?