History and analysis of the evolution of music streaming services from Napster to Spotify. Quantity and quality at the right price, as well as being a regional TV advertising slogan, is a phrase that summarizes what a consumer (I prefer the word “buyer,” though) would like. How many times have these three variables, i.e., quantity, quality, and price, not being included in the same equation simultaneously? At least one must sacrifice itself in the name of the other two. This is almost a rule that has existed since the beginning of commerce and that (extremely summarily) the Internet could or should have been made obsolete.
In reality, if it is true that through e-commerce, it is possible to do convenient shopping (which sometimes generates an “ethical load” that, in the physical world, was not and is not), the Internet allows direct use of digital content. These are not always cheap or quality compared to the same traditionally used services. The most striking example is paid sport: today, you pay more to see worse and use content more difficulty (not to mention the probable exclusion of generations less accustomed to technology).
Quite the opposite of what one expects from the Internet, that is, from a technological revolution, in a nutshell. But there is, in my opinion, one exception to everything I’ve written: streaming on-demand music services. I use Spotify (and I am satisfied with it), and I used Deezer (and I was confident with it). Still, there are several: Apple Music, Amazon Music Unlimited, Tidal, and Qobuz (the latter two for audiophiles since they are distinguished by higher audio quality than other services).
All these services require a subscription for an account of around € 10 / month(Qobuz about € 20 per month, is a bit like the Cadillac of these services), that is, like a gin and tonic in many bars in Milan, and unlimited access to tens of millions of songs; in addition, there are “common” subscription plans that allow you to spend even less (for example 5 or 6 accounts at about € 15 / month). There are also free options for some of these platforms that include listening to advertisements while using the contents and limiting the catalog or the choice of content to listen to: I do not recommend this type of use because it determines, in a decisive way, the potential of the service.
From Digitizing Audio To The Internet
The Internet was a decisive factor in this revolution in the use of music, but it was not the only one. The other decisive factor (passing over the entrepreneurship of the people behind the platforms above) was the digitization of audio that allowed the birth of digital music, the conversion of any musical composition into a digital signal. 1951 is the year in which there was the first recording of digital music, made by the BBC, which recorded the music produced by the Computer Ferranti Mark I; since then, there was no news in this sense until 1979 when Sony and Philips defined the CD Audio standard and Sony itself, in 1982, launched the first CD player. Until the advent of the Internet and the World Wide Web, however, the potential of digital audio files was only (significantly) partially exploited.
It was imposed due to the resistance of the medium where it was recorded (i.e., the CD, much more durable than vinyl or a cassette), for the ease of use of the support itself (immediate response to the pause, stop and skip keys) and for the infinite reproducibility of the file itself without affecting its quality. This last characteristic has allowed digital files to revolutionize, with the advent of the Internet, not only the music industry but the relationship of each person with music and its use, being the file “downloadable and uploadable” on and from computers and, if the computers are connected, on and from the Internet. This introduced the boom in so-called music piracy, which occurred with the first broadband connections in the late 1990s.
The War On Music Piracy
Initially and for many years (in reality, even to a much lesser extent, even today), a sort of vacation legis, or rather, lack of rules and inability to regularize the diffusion of digital music online by institutions allowed the explosion of online music piracy. Napster was the most striking example of an online platform for the free and unlimited acquisition of musical contents entirely identical to those purchased in the store (with the exception, of course, of the packaging, an oddity that is also valid today for the platforms. “Legal”).
Napster was, in some ways, a peer-to-peer service, even though it had central servers that held lists of connected systems and shared files, where the exchange of files took place between related users. The major record companies, after an initial war on this type of activity in an attempt to eliminate them, realizing that by now the way of enjoying music had definitely changed, made a virtue of necessity: Napster himself, in 2002, was bought by Bertelsmann AG (one of the largest multimedia companies in the world) and started selling music online legally. In reality, however, it was Apple 2003, with the iTunes Store that massaged the use of this type of service, managing to have 70% of the digital music market in 2004.
Legal Music Streaming
Since then, despite the always and in any case present piracy, the revenues generated by this type of service have been such as to allow “legal” music streaming to evolve continuously, both from the point of view of quality (both audio and catalog, that of an interface, that of “proactive” algorithms based on user ratings) and from the point of view of the platforms that offer the service. Furthermore, technological progress, in general, allows today to produce music at a much lower cost than in the past.
A quality producer and studio will always make a difference. Still, the possibilities of self-producing a record with acceptable sound quality were, years ago, meager given the costs, while today, it is much easier. This further turning point, one might think, facilitates the expression of talent in place of the presence of a “sponsor.” Then it is evident that Black Sabbath and Jimi Hendrix are seen in any case very few … but the musical choice is almost infinite, primarily through streaming, and certainly exceeds any need or desire to listen to music. This is where the only problem related to music streaming arises, at least for me: musical “bulimia.”
I always listen to many different records. I always look for new music: it is now challenging to listen to a record, even if I like it ten times (when I bought a CD, the 30 listening times were the minimum for a paper I wanted). The bulimic sense of guilt arises from the fact that, on the one hand, I do not do justice to the work that I liked and, on the other, that the almost toxic need to listen to “new stuff” prevails over the pleasure of enjoying the music I like. I am trying to solve this problem by curbing my frenzy toward “new” music. In the meantime, I am increasingly convinced that music streaming is the best thing the Internet offers, especially considering the three variables of quantity, quality and price.