In terms of technology that’s available to us at the moment, it’s easy to believe that streaming is the ‘final destination’ when it comes to how we consume music.
We’ve been listening to recorded music since the phonograph record became popular in the 1920s, and we’ve been through several stages of evolution since then.
At first, it was just a case of records becoming smaller. Larger and more fragile phonograph records gave way to smaller and more durable vinyl, of various sizes and RPM speeds.
Then came the magnetic cassette tape, which allowed people to record their own music off the radio (and was heralded as the death of the music industry as a result). Cassettes were smaller, easier to carry around and store, and also allowed for the invention of the Walkman.
Now we could take music with us wherever we went, and we couldn’t imagine someone creating a better format for it.
That all changed with the creation of CDs. CDs didn’t need rewinding, and so there was an obvious positive to using them instead of cassettes. They also allowed for home recording, but in most cases could store more music, lasted longer and played at a better quality.
Once more, we assumed that methods of musical playback had peaked and that no further innovation was possible.
There was one last step forward in the physical music world, and that was the minidisc. Minidiscs did everything CDs did but in a microformat.
There was a brief period where you could walk into a high street store and buy minidisc players and albums on minidisc, and it seemed like the next logical evolutionary step. It may well have been, but then the internet happened, and mp3s became a reality.
Many people reading this article will remember the days of downloading music from the internet at a rate of one track per hour, if you were lucky. Home internet was in its infancy, with connection rates hovering around 56 kilobytes per second, and downloading an album could take a day.
We loved the novelty of it though; we could own music without any packaging or bulk at all, and with the advent of mp3 players we could carry it around with us on tiny devices.
Streaming is really just a progression of the same principle, with faster internet behind it. There’s no need for us to centrally ‘own’ an mp3 or a digital music file now, because we can just connect with it wherever it is on the internet, and stream it immediately.
Services like Spotify and iTunes have almost rendered the idea of having a record collection redundant; everything that’s ever been committed to record is available online somewhere, and it’s only a fingertip away.
It’s now tough to imagine what could be done to improve the availability of music, and so it’s tempting to think that we’re at the end of the line.
If music is available instantly and everywhere, then short of having it beamed directly into our brains and accessed by the power of thought, what innovation could possibly be deemed an improvement?
The answer may already be happening slowly, and it’s interactive music.
Interactive music isn’t necessarily a ‘new’ concept; it’s just that the availability of it is reaching a point where it could finally be ready to go mainstream.
It was once thought that the best way of providing an interactive musical experience was through virtual reality headsets, with British band Coldplay teaming up with Samsung to broadcast a concert on their headsets in 2017.
It seemed like a revolutionary idea. People who weren’t at the concert now had the ability to virtually ‘be there,’ and to experience the same concert repeatedly as if they were standing on the front row every time.
It was a new way of experiencing music, but it wasn’t truly ‘interactive.’ The band wasn’t present in front of you, and you could interact with the person next to you. They were still just a recording.
There have also been other attempts to make music interactive with varying degrees of success. The video game series ‘Rock Band’ and ‘Guitar Hero’ combined music with a video gaming experience to huge success.
Over at Rose Slots, there are online slot games based on Guns n Roses and Jimi Hendrix, where players can listen to the music of their favorite artists while trying to win money.
Both formats represent a degree of interactivity combined with music, but still, don’t involve direct interaction with the musicians or real-time performances. They’re games that involve music and make a feature of music, but don’t connect the listener and the artist in person.
When say interactive, we mean a virtual setting where you, the band and the other people watching the band are all there in real time, sharing the same virtual environment. That may sound like the technology of the future, but it’s already happened.
Early in February this year, globally-known DJ Marshmello performed at a venue ‘inside’ the blockbuster video game ‘Fortnite.’ Marshmello’s avatar was present at the location, playing music in real time, and interacting with players who arrived at the venue to see him.
It’s thought that anything up to ten million people tuned into the concert. You may be wondering what that meant for Marshmello in terms of making money, and the answer is simple; it turned people on to his streams.
The uptake in the streaming of Marshmello’s music in the week after his virtual concert was in excess of twenty-four thousand percent.
It only takes a short leap of the imagination to see how the number of listeners at a virtual concert could be factored into ‘streams’ of a track, and therefore become chart eligible.
While right now it may just be one DJ, the eyes of the music world will have been opened wide by the extraordinary level of interest in the performance, and it’s almost certain that more acts will follow.
Music may be staying digital for the long term, but digital concerts may be the next phase of evolution.