MMM Thoughts: Physical Media vs. Streaming Services – Which is a Better Listening Experience?


There’s no doubt that technology has changed the way of life for modern people across the globe. From self-driving cars to automated purchases and even media consumption, people have adapted the changing tech into their lives. Entire business models have needed to revamp to keep with the changing times, and the music industry is no exception. Since the rise of the Internet, the music industry shifted to keep track of these changes. As more people became connected to the Internet, people created more ways to gather and share what mattered most to them. File sharing sites and programs began to spring up like Napster in 1999. This program caused a titanic shift in the way that information was hosted and discovered online. Through the program, and others like it, online users could search for music and other files they were looking for and download them without needing large operations to host data.

With the creation of Napster and the legal precedence that happened from it, new technology followed that allowed users to share and download files easier. Peer-to-Peer technology forced companies to find ways to entice users to prevent the absolute loss of profits. Through several grueling court cases, the company was forced to close. The next best option Napster had was to turn into a paid service that would allow users to download without fear of persecution. The legality of digital media began to grow, and while there were still ways of navigating Internet censorship, companies entrenched in the industry needed a way to keep with the changing technology. Streaming services have become the industry’s way of adapting to technology while still making money from the content. For most people, there are three main ways to consume music: listening to AM/FM radio stations, purchasing physical copies of music such as vinyl and CDs, or subscribing to music streaming services. There are pros and cons each way, but for the sake of argument, the radio isn’t included because of its free accessibility.

Physical media like mixtapes, vinyl, and CDs allow the listener to listen to their desired songs and albums whenever they want without needing an active Internet connection. Listeners that prefer vinyl tend to care about the quality of music. With streaming services, the sound can sometimes be not as sharp and more muffled, which leads to a reduction of quality a skilled listener can ultimately distinguish. Physical media also comes with its set of cons. As technology grows more advanced, it becomes harder for people to get newly released music in their preferred medium. Vinyl records were used almost exclusively for music before the ‘80s, though they are currently experiencing resurgence. A problem that arises with physical media is the likelihood of the album getting scratched, cracked, or further damage.

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Streaming services have made great strides to provide people with listening to music more conveniently. With the dawn of mobile smart phones, streaming services provided more opportunities for people to listen to the music that they want wherever and whenever they want, having a variety of artists to listen to and discover at their fingertips. These services have given most people the absolute greatest ability to discover new artists to fall in love with. However, streaming services also can create convenience problems for modern users. Without a strong Internet connection, many may not be able to access songs and albums when they want. Listeners may also suffer from the over-proliferation of platforms that provide similar but different listening options. An entire catalog of work may not be on a platform of the user’s choice. That is frustrating when wanting to listen to an artist, but finding that they’ve been pulled from the platform or they are exclusively on another one. Arguably, people can also say that they are paying for the same music they listen to all of the time.

Personally, I think it’s important to have aspects of both physical and digital media. I’m an active listener of music online, but I don’t always have access to a stable Internet connection and having the digital file becomes important to me. I generally tend to keep a backup copy of my music library in case of loss or corruption. Physical copies like CDs or vinyl act as hardcore accessories or dedication to your favorite artists. I’ve had my heart crushed too much by scratched or broken discs, so I won’t ever have a library composed of them, but they can be still can helpful when backing up your music library.

Technology has changed so much over the last 20 years and people have either adapted or resisted to the changing times. The overall music industry is trying to keep up with the times by providing as many convenient options for listeners as possible in an attempt to discourage illegal downloading. It seems harder for many to embrace the music culture of the past with technology becoming more accessible. But for those that know the quality of the great, it’s hard to let go completely as well.

Written by: Carlton Rolle

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