“Now look at them yo-yos that’s the way you do it; You play the guitar on the MTV. That ain’t workin’ that’s the way you do it; Money for nothin’ and [outdated and politically incorrect] chicks for free.”
With those immortal words from the Dire Straits album, Brothers in Arms, the music industry started one of its many revolutions in the way music is delivered. That particular album, released on 13 May 1985, was the first album to sell more in Compact Discs (CDs) than it sold in vinyl. CD was first released in 1982 and I remember at the time hearing that this was the music format that would be the final solution. It was high quality; hard-wearing; small and cheap to manufacture. It had it all.
Mind you, this was after the industry had seen a number of ‘this is it’ formats. Have a look at a few of those formats. In 1860 the Phonautogram had a sound waveform transcribed to glass which Edison improved on in 1877 with a Phonograph Cylinder. Jump past a few other attempts at musical reproduction to 1925 when the first records were produced albeit they were electrical cut records. Reel to reel magnetic tape was tried in the 1930s and in 1948 Columbia released the first Vinyl LP. These were cheap to produce and delivered high quality audio and could be played repeatedly. Sounds like the promise from CDs. In 1963, the compact cassette tape was introduced which suddenly gave portability to music. The radio was once the centrepiece of the car entertainment system because they couldn’t produce a car with a suspension system to allow a vinyl record to play. The cassette changed that completely – with a cassette player able to handle the bumps and movement in a car. Radio stations the world over groaned in frustration when the cassette was introduced. Imagine listeners being able to choose their own music – minus the ads! It also opened up the ability for the designers at Sony to create the Walkman in 1979 – the first truly portable music player and the inspiration for Cliff Richard’s 1981 hit, Wired for Sound.
As mentioned, 1982 saw the end of the revolution, with CD set to replace everything – and it did for a time. In 1997 DVD improved on the concept slightly with the same format but higher density storage but it was still a laser disc concept and Blu-ray was the same in terms of the improvement.
When the world was thinking of physical mediums and improvements in quality and size, the real revolution was yet to come. In 1998 the first MP3 player was sold in the US – with spectacularly poor results. Small capacity and clumsy methods of uploading songs meant that only a few people persevered with the concept – until the iPod revolution. The iPod was introduced in 2001 but it took a couple of years for Apple to marry the software and the purchasing of songs and the hardware together before the concept took off – and replaced physical mediums. Forget the CD and vinyl wars. The world had gone digital.
Just when we thought the war had been won, streaming services popped up and caught Apple napping. Apple is well known to be a market leader and a technology disrupter but in this case streaming services grabbed the market before Apple realised what had happened.
Spotify has over 140 million subscribers and Pandora has topped 80 million. These are the two biggest from the thirty providers you can choose from. By comparison, Apple Music is playing catch-up and has only just hit 30 million subscribers.
What all of this tells me is that in the world of technology, there is never a final solution. There are dozens of times in the history of music delivery that the world has concluded that the game is over and they have declared a winner – only for another solution to be generated. At the moment, streaming seems portable; flexible; compact; high-quality and hard-wearing. Sound familiar? Continue the revolution!