Exploring Music's Complexities

The Digital Evolution

Digital Music

digital music

Times are changing!  This is especially true in the music industry.  Before we discovered digital music we spent time listening to live performances and taping music to obtain infinite detail and infinite resolution.  If you are old enough to remember the’70s you probably can remember turntables and 8-track players.  We played records or tapes using analog technology that translated information into electric pulses of varying amplitude. The dictionary defines this technology as “a method of sound recording in which an input audio waveform is converted to an analogous wave form (1).”   These recordings can be used only in analog devices.

Over time, the delivery of music has changed.   One of the earliest events was the introduction of the 45RPM single in the 50s.  Then came cassettes, which recorded information onto magnetic film and provided a means to listen to long-playing albums.  They were also more durable and easier to store.  Despite these changes, the format was still analog and wore down and degraded over time.  Vinyl lost sound quality and was easily scratched.  Tapes muffled over time and could be easily spooled out.   In October of 1982, Sony, the company who invented the CD player, released the first commercial CD players in the market.  In the beginning, there were only about 50 CD albums.  A year later there were about 1,000 song titles.  Sony is credited as the company who invented the CD player models that we know today (2).


While the CD was an improvement, the real change came with the introduction of the MP3.  An MP3 is a sound recording in which information is translated into binary format (zero or 1).  Each bit is representative of two distinct amplitudes  (3.)

The audio waveform is sampled at regular intervals, between 40,000 and 50,000 times per second.  This file format allows an audio file to be reduced in size, making it easier to download from the Internet and store on MP3 players, iPods, and cellular phones.  One minute of audio data takes up about 10MB of disc space.  An MP3will take up 1 MB.   While there is some loss in quality of sound when recording MP3 files, it is believed by many, to be not noticeable to the average listener (3).

Apple entered the downloadable music business when it purchased a player program called SoundJam MP written by Jeff Robbin, Bill Kincaid, and Dave Heller.  The name was changed to iTunes and the rest was history, until the buying public switched from downloading tracks of music to audio streaming.

Unlike music files that are downloaded over the Internet to a computer and listened to at a later time, a streamed track is played almost immediately.  As the information arrives it is buffered and then played back.  There is no waiting.  Neither is there storage of the music.  It is a one-way audio transmission over a data network (5 ).

Downloading Music

Music may be downloaded in three ways:  Permanent Downloads (“PD”), streams, and Tethered Downloads (“TD”) ( 6).  Permanent downloads occur when a subscriber purchases a track and burns it into a CD.   There most likely is a restriction as to the number of times this is possible to prevent “sharing”.  When these permanent downloads are sold, the musician is paid a fixed rate.

Another means to download music is referred to as Tethered Downloading.  In this case the purchasers may put the tracks on their computers but must validate their subscriptions regularly to determine the subscription in still paid up.  If the subscription is cancelled, Tethered Downloads are disabled.  That makes the Tethered Download a limited use type of download.  Tethered Downloads may not be burned to a CD ( 6 ).

Streaming occurs when a person listens to an artist’s song or music video through a subscription music service but does not own or permanently download the content.  In this situation the individual pays a monthly subscription fee for access.  A service is noninteractive if the user may not choose to what they are listening, but are provided a pre-programmed or semi-random selection of music (see: www.wos-radio.com).

If the service permits on-demand access to specific music it is referred to as interactive or on-demand streaming.   Services may offer ad-enabled or ad-disabled music and or video. ( 6). The type of royalties generated on each stream is dependent on the type of stream itself.  Most interactive or on-demand services pay royalties based on a percentage of their revenue (subscription, advertising or sometimes combination of both) (7).


What does all this mean for the musicians who write and play the songs being streamed?  Streaming is changing everything (8-9)!    Despite the fact that streaming is on the rise, its revenues are not great enough to cover the drop in revenues from downloads.  This means a loss of revenues for the musicians.  A similar situation occurred with the launch of iTunes.  It probably will take some time for things to improve for the musicians.

Technology has changed the way we produce and listen to music.  How we react to music is also changing.  It’s everywhere and people are listening in a very different way.  Rather than listening to an entire piece of music we hear snippets.  Much of it becomes background noise.  At the same time, no technology can ever replace the magic of live performances.  Music has become white noise.  This is truly a loss.

Li-Sem’s primary route for distributing its music is  through streaming.  Check us out in all of the streaming services including iTunes, Spotify, and amazon.


1.  http://www.dictionary.reference.com/browse/analog+recording

2.  Who Invented the CD Player?  http://www.whoinventedit.net/who-invented-the-cd-player.html   

3.  Analog vs. Digital.  http://www.diffen.com/difference/Analog_vs_Digital.

4.  Agreement Royale.  https://futureofmusic.org/blog/2008/10/01/agreement-royale  

5.  The Evolution of iTunes  http://money.cnn.com/gallery/technology/2013/04/25/itunes-history.

6.   The Digital Lowdown. http://bigfishmedia.typepad.com/  

7.  What are downloads and streams?  http://help.tunecore.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/104/~/what-are-downloads-and-streams%3F.

8.  Streaming music:  what next for Apple, YouTube,  Spotify. …and musicians?

9.  http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/aug/29/streaming-music-apple-youtube-spotify-musicians.


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