Music streaming is incredibly convenient and accessible now, but it wasn’t always like this. Before we had the convenience of services like Apple Music and Spotify, there were breakthroughs like the MP3 format and disruptors like Napster.
The music streaming services we have today result from decades of evolution, advancements, and innovations.
Let’s discuss a brief history of music streaming to bring you up to speed.
A Brief History of Music Streaming
MP3 and IUMA – 1993
The first breakthrough in music streaming was the introduction of the MP3 format in 1993, which enabled the compression of music into small digital files for storage, transmission, and distribution. The Internet Underground Music Archive (IUMA) was launched in the same year.
IUMA was far ahead of its time and allowed independent artists to upload and stream their music to audiences online. Fans could download the music, enjoy internet radio and live streaming, and artists could also communicate with them.
Napster – 1999
Digital music had become popular by the late 90s, with most people listening to songs on their CD players, including portable ones. Napster was introduced in 1999 as a peer-to-peer music-sharing platform. People could copy songs from their CDs and upload them for others to download for free.
Napster became a global sensation, and the latest copyrighted songs were available on the platform for free as soon as they came out. While this wasn’t great for the record labels and artists, Napster was the pioneering catalyst that made Internet MP3 downloads a household thing.
iPod – 2001
The introduction of the iPod further accelerated Internet downloads and put hundreds of songs in people’s pockets.
Last.fm – 2002
Last FM was a music streaming service founded in the UK, and it was the first to crunch user data about listening habits and provide recommendations. For the first time ever, worthy song recommendations came from an algorithm, not a human being.
iTunes Music Store – 2003
Apple launched its iTunes Music Store to compliment their popular iPod device and provide legal music downloads for as low as 99 cents.
Pandora – 2005
Pandora was an Internet radio music streaming service that wanted to reinvent radio. They used similar recommendation algorithms as Last.fm, but offered individual radio stations for each user. The idea was to provide good music without “junk” like ads and DJ chatter.
However, ads would still bother free users. Pandora was essentially the first personalized music streaming platform that also introduced a subscription model, which we commonly see today with modern music streaming services like Spotify.
SoundCloud – 2007
By the mid-2000s, we already had YouTube for video streaming and Flikr for image sharing, but there was nothing for music. SoundCloud was introduced as a sound-sharing platform for artists to collaborate from all over the world, which was impossible before.
Spotify – 2008
Spotify came out as a free music streaming service (with ads) and offered a subscription model for high-quality, ad-free music streaming. It offered social features and ensured the legal streaming of copyrighted music.
Apple Music – 2015
Apple Music was introduced as a ‘one-stop shop for pop culture.’ The music streaming service offered Internet radio, curated playlists, access to iTunes library, and was the first paid-only music streaming service.
We have come a long way from the days of MP3s and illegal music sharing on Napster. However, it is important to look back at this brief history of music streaming to appreciate the decades-long journey that culminated in today’s popular music streaming services.