By the 1990s, mass media had taken hold, and the internet became a super highway of information across 50% of the western world – helped along by Intel’s Pentium chip. Listening to music in the comfort of our bedrooms became standardised with the advent of 90s hi-fi systems, while headphones became stylised and comfortable.
Rock was still enjoying its never-ending heydey, with alt-rock and industrial rock bands propping up its unwavering popularity amongst a new wave of fans. Many 90s kids know the decade as the Britpop era, where girl power, Northern music powerhouses, and the ingrained image of the Union Jack reigned supreme. Chunky mobile phones transformed into sleek, small devices, and commercialised pop music created boy bands.
By 1998, the first Mp3 player was released, which would set a new precedent for music consumption from physical vinyl and radio to internet streaming on peer-to-peer networks. The era of the CD sales at £12.00 a pop looked like it was coming to an end, and copyright infringement cases rose dramatically as record labels spoke out against the free distribution of online media.
00s and now
The 00s was described as the ‘lost decade’ in 2010 by CNN as US music sales toppled from $14.6 billion in 1999 to just $6.3 billion in 2009. Consumers were now dictating the future of the industry as streaming maintained a strong grip on the industry – a grip that would never be shaken. America’s influence in the UK remained as strong as ever with artists like Eminem, Fall Out Boy and Lady Gaga dominating the charts.
Over in the UK, music subgenres and fusions paved the way for tight-knit niche communities but the preservation of Britpop lived on through bands like The Verve and Travis. Streaming platforms like Napster evolved into distribution sites like Spotify, Apple Music, and Google Play. Individual CD sales have been overtaken by monthly subscriptions services that artists must now be a part of as the perpetuation of online domination is here to stay. Streaming will continue to be the future of music, according to Forbes, but only a handful of successful platforms will make enough money to stay above water.
Providers that embrace the latest audio technologies will have a distinct advantage. Master Quality Authenticated audio (MQA), developed by Meridian Audio, is promoted as the next technological advance that will “fundamentally change the way we all enjoy music” as it facilitates high-res audio streaming, with sound quality that surpasses the original master recording – watch this space.
Technology now plays a prominent role during live shows, such as festival stage shows, and sell-out stadium gigs. This should come as no surprise because streaming services have forced artists to earn the majority of their incomes by other means, like tours and advertising. Technology is playing into the hands of the next era of tech-savvy, smart consumers that have grown up in the digital age – millennials accounted for nearly half of all audio spending in 2015. Physical gadgets have been compacted and condensed down to mobile phone apps, and headphones have become status symbols rather than a functional necessity.
The future of music will be shaped by creating experiences after decades of technological advances. Bowie predicted today’s climate beautifully in 2002: ”Music itself is going to become like running water or electricity”. Whether you like to cling on to nostalgic vinyl, or you have embraced the future of music with its many deviations, there’ll be a product or service that is just right for you.