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The evolution of music consumption over the past three decades has been a wild ride from questionable downloads to unlimited playlists. Remember when downloading music and burning CDs felt like it took an eternity? 

With internet speeds being what they were back then, patience was indeed a virtue. Today, it’s all about 24/7 access and listening. It’s incredible how fast things can change. 

Amid the rapid rise of AI and the digital age, the tempo of music consumption shows no signs of slowing down. As physical album sales plummet and streaming services take over, where will this relentless progress take us next? 

Rewind the tape

The ’90s was the era of physical albums, which stored about 700 MB worth of audio tracks. Then came MPEG and MP3 formats, where transferring music between devices became as common as burning CDs. MP3s—and the world’s open secret—digital music piracy in the 2000s were the unsung heroes of the time, allowing people to acquire and carry tunes wherever they were. 

That was everyone’s reality before iTunes, where instead of buying a physical album, you can buy music from your computer. Last.fm, SoundCloud and Bandcamp entered the market and offered budding artists a place to share their music with the world. 

But it was Spotify’s arrival on the scene in 2008 that created a seismic shift in music consumption. It’s as if the platform has everything—infinite music to listen to, free and premium account options and an algorithm that seems to know every person’s music taste. Spotify quickly became the go-to destination for music lovers everywhere 

Contemporary perspective

@tyla_

♬ Water - Tyla

Fast forward to today, the dynamics are evolving yet again. Research has shown that Gen Z spends more time streaming music than every other generation, dedicating 40 minutes more than the rest of the population. 

Their eclectic taste spans genres like hip-hop, R&B and alternative rock. Having grown up with the internet as an integral part of their lives, this demographic embraces genre diversity more than any other generation. 

It’s not just the younger audience—older generations are jumping on the bandwagon. Have you ever gone to TikTok, found great music and added it to your Spotify playlist? TikTok has emerged as a place where viral hits can catapult artists to stardom even with just one hit. 

One perfect example is “Driver’s License” by Olivia Rodrigo, which became a massive song on the platform before dominating streaming services and “Water” by Tyla, who is often called a one-hit wonder. 

What’s truly exciting, though, is the rise of DIY music. With a rising preference for fresh beats produced outside established recording studios, aspiring musicians are embracing their creativity like never before. This democratisation of music creation is not just a trend, but a movement reshaping how music can empower and connect people with others on their own terms. 

The rising popularity of home studio

J.Cole waited two hours in the rain outside Jay Z’s studio to give him his mixtape, which the latter casually dismissed. Back in the day, aspiring artists needed to get through the O.Gs to reach the top. 

Gone are the days when success in the music industry depended on securing deals with prestigious labels. That was the reality for many musicians, but the game has changed. Today, indie artists are rewriting the rules. For the first time in many years, a new breed of independent copyright owners is growing and making music from the comforts of their own homes. 

Home studios are all the rage today—with the rise of independent artists, they’re not going anywhere soon. With the advancements in technology and the rising accessibility of tools, artists can craft professional-grade music from the comfort of their own space. 

This newfound accessibility will continue to empower many artists to embrace their own creativity in the following years. Who knows, it might inspire casual listeners to create their own beats, too. 

The future of learning an instrument

The rise of home studios isn’t just changing how music is made—it’s reigniting the interest in learning musical instruments. Thanks to the digital age, access to music education has never been more democratised. 

From free tutorials on platforms like YouTube to hybrid instruments, anyone can be a musician. Studies may have shown that music-related ability is 50 per cent inherited from a family member. Still, the availability of free resources means anyone can hone their skills if they dedicate enough time and effort to learning.

Musical instruments have also continuously adapted to the technological advancements of artists. Case in point: virtual instruments—powered by artificial intelligence and advanced software—allow individuals to learn a specific instrument and experiment with unlimited possibilities. 

It’s also hard to keep up with the recent otherworldly musical inventions, such as sitars made from golf clubs and miniature synthesisers. Recently, the world’s first Kovar guitar strings were produced. They’re more corrosion-resistant than your typical Titanium string. Kovar is a nickel-cobalt alloy commonly used in the construction industry and has now made its way into the music industry. Will these strings strike a chord with guitarists? Only time will tell. 

Even if you’re not strumming a guitar yourself, the prospect of future instruments looks promising. Picture wearable instruments like bracelets embedded with sensors and hybrid instruments that seamlessly blend digital and acoustic elements. In an AI-dominated era, what better way to appreciate technological advancements than through music? 

Innovations to look out for

As streaming continues to dominate the musical landscape, expect to see even more tailored-fit experiences in the years to come. Much of people’s lives are accompanied by a soundtrack, whether at work, home or play—and it’s not going anywhere. Around 71% of people say music is essential to their mental wellness, and 78% say it helps them relax and cope with stress. Given that, what we can expect is a total blast on hyper-personalisation.

As streaming platforms use artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve recommendations, you can expect more innovations like Spotify’s AI DJ and Daylist in the coming years. Soon enough, systems can analyse beyond your streaming activities, current weather, time of the day and location. 

It’s a bit frightening knowing that AI can soon predict your desires long before you identify the need for it. That future is not impossible, given the rapid advances of AI. One thing’s for sure, though—personalised innovations will quickly rise as CD sales and digital downloads slowly go extinct. 

With the rise of VR and AR technologies, music streaming will become a catalyst for more innovative live music experiences—exclusive live streaming of concerts, DJ sets and virtual series are possibilities of the future. Considering the future 6G, you can look forward to virtual visual streaming—imagine having your favourite artist performing in front of you as their only audience. It’s like having an intimate concert in the comfort of your own home. 

With music playing 24/7, it’s easy to get tired of the same tunes. Talking about music is more than finding new songs to listen to—it’s a way for people to connect. That being said, you can expect to see the emergence of social music streaming, where users can follow friends’ listening activities, share playlists and collaborate on music creation. 

How AI plays in the scene

Future music consumption tools would likely involve a mix of AI-generated and human-created instrumentals, songs and soundscapes. When the song “Heart on My Sleeve,” featuring Drake and the Weeknd’s AI-generated vocals dropped, it immediately went viral. The track was posted on TikTok and streaming services, which racked up 600,000 Spotify streams and 15 million TikTok views before it was removed from all platforms due to copyright violation claims. Despite the controversy, people love it, even going as far as telling AI is terrible, but not until this song dropped.

While some artists feel threatened by AI, others see it as an opportunity to make passive income from other creators producing songs that use their voices. Grimes is the living embodiment of this concept—she released Elf.tech, a platform that allows people to create new songs using her voice. 

If you’ve ever created YouTube videos, you know the struggle of finding royalty-free music. Enter Beatoven and Boomy—platforms that let you generate music and royalty-free tracks with the help of AI. These tools will let you create music based on your chosen genre, energy level and mood. What a way to be your own DJ. 

What the future holds

Looking back on the past, present and future of music consumption, one thing is certain—streaming will remain an unstoppable force. What’s exciting about the future is how people listen to music and the opportunities for music creation as home studios become more popular. 

Whatever the future holds, remember that consuming music is more than just hitting that play button. It’s also about connecting people. 

Not to be all doom and gloom, but it appears we (and by we, I mean the tech bros running YouTube) have finally nailed the coffin shut when it comes to keeping the human brain focused for more than a mere handful of seconds, if not less.

YouTube – which is not just the new competitor against Netflix, but basically every single platform striving for human engagement – is experimenting with a new feature called “jump ahead”, which will allow members to skip to the ‘best’ part of the video. As if YouTube reels, three minute videos, nevertheless TikTok, weren’t short enough, this new feature will allow time sensitive or simply attention lacking individuals to skip ahead to the juiciest seconds of a video, and then move on to the next one. This evokes an image of the downloading sequence in The Matrix where Neo is plugged in and ‘kung fu’ is downloaded into his brain in a matter of seconds and voila, suddenly, in the words of Neo himself, “I know Kung Fu.”

This “Jump Ahead” feature may just be a “small experiment” to the tech giant, which is owned by Google, but its potential reach is gargantuan. Last month, YouTube surpassed 100 million Premium and Music subscribers, a number which includes those participating in a free trial. YouTube Premium, which is basically just ad-free YouTube, costs SGD 11.98, and as a standalone, YouTube music costs SGD 9.98.

Although many still view Netflix to be the undefeated champ of online streaming, YouTube does have more usage, although not more paying members, as Netflix has 260 million worldwide. Still, YouTube made more than SGD 41 billion last year in ad revenue.

Based on a recent study from Nielsen, the global leader in audience insights, data and analytics, YouTube represents 9.3% of TV and streaming viewership as of February 2024. Netflix came in second at was 7.8%, and Hulu and Amazon Prime Video tied in third place. But what is perhaps most surprising of all, is that standard, TV is still the most popular place to watch shows and movies at home. Streaming “only” made up 37.7% of the viewership pie.

SZABO VIKTOR

Considering the “jump ahead” feature, one must also bear in mind that many YouTube videos contain 90% fluff, especially the guaranteed inclusion of “and don’t forget to like and subscribe”, which can become repetitively annoying, so the intentions behind this feature may not be as mind zapping as they initially appeared. For example, amongst YouTube fitness channels, many videos can reach up to 30 minutes with a title Best Bicep Workout.

As any avid gym goer can tell you, training your biceps does not require thirty minutes of explanation, and for those who subscribe to such channels, in recent years, many fitness YouTubers are making contrasting, shortened videos that get to the point much quicker, which isn’t due to lack of attention, but rather a more succinct explanation. And if you read the comments section, you’ll see an influx of reactions like, “thank you for immediately getting to the point!”

Depending on how you view the “jump ahead” feature, it can be seen as a force for good when considering the type of content you are watching, i.e. informative fitness channels. And with Elon Musk’s Neuralink raising eyebrows and interest across the internet – will it expand the possibilities of human cognition or destroy the human mind? – one thing is for certain: attention spans are dropping faster than interest in a Robin Thicke concert.

Originally published on Esquire ME

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