Streaming, a phenomenon the people of today would not want to picture a world without anymore. Easy access to a large variety of music and also affordable; what more could a consumer want? Today we are going to take a look at the technology of audio streaming, and besides that take a look at how far the technology has come in the past years.
So how does it work?
Streaming audio is audio content, which is sent in compressed form over the Internet and played immediately, rather than being saved to the hard drive, which would be a download. With streaming audio you do not have to wait to download a file to start playing it, you enjoy it right away! This is due to the fact that the audio is sent in a continuous stream of data; it can play as it arrives. Users can pause, rewind or fast-forward the audio content whenever they wish to, just like they could with a downloaded file, unless the content is being streamed live.
The success of streaming audio is quite recent, though the idea behind it has been around as long as we have. When someone talks to you, the information travels toward you in the form of a sound wave. When this sound wave reaches your ears and brains, they will decode this information for you, so you are able to understand it. The same thing happens when you would for example listen to radio online.
In streaming audio the travelling information is a stream of data coming from a server. The decoder is a stand-alone player or a plugin that works as a part of the Web browser. The server, information stream and decoder work together to let you stream live or other audio.
What are the requirements?
All you need to stream audio online is a relatively strong Internet connection. Because streaming delivers data when you need it, slow or interrupted internet connections can cause problems. For example, if your device has only streamed the first 30 seconds of a song and your internet connection lacks before any more of the song has streamed onto your device, the song will stop playing.
Online audio streaming: a timeline
The MP3 format came into existence the same year IUMA (Internet Underground Music Archive) was established. This was a big breakthrough in audio technology, it was achieved by Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG). MP3 made it able to compress sound sequence into small file sizes for digital storage and transmission.
Late 1990’s: Napster
In the late 1990s Napster came into existence. There was plenty opportunity, because this was the time when digital music had become a big thing and people used to play digital music using a CD player.
With Napster, you could essentially have an audio file which was way smaller than that of a CD, download it over a modem, and play it back on a computer. So a lot of people started copying music from CDs and sharing copyrighted music on peer-to-peer services such as Napster.
The sound quality wasn’t always great, still MP3 file downloads in this manner became a rage, because of how easy it was to share the latest hits. In a way Napster kind of pioneered the internet-downloaded MP3s.
In 2001 the first iPod came into existence. Because of its small size and easy usage it stood out from the competition and therefore got higher sales. At this time, music could be put on an iPod from CDs and other online sources.
LastFM was founded in 2002 in the UK. It contained a few social features and it could recommend artists based on the user’s favourites. LastFM made use of an algorithm, which was called ‘’Audioscrobbler’’. This algorithm takes the user’s details and then builds a detailed profile for them according to their taste in music.
2003: iTunes store
When Apple realised that music could be easily transferred from CDs and online sources to iPod, they launched the iTunes store in 2003. The goal was to introduce a legitimate source to listeners, where you could access music by purchasing separate songs for 99 cents per song, without having to pay anything for subscription. This became very popular because it allowed listening to songs on an unlimited number of iPods. Users could also play songs on various Mac computers, and use songs in any application on the Mac, including iPhoto, iMovie, and iDVD.
2005: Pandora Internet Radio
In 2005 Pandora (Internet) Radio was launched. Its goal was to have a separate, individualized radio station for each individual user to be able to only access what they find good music, without having to listen to what they do not enjoy. It was the first Radio that offered a personalized music streaming experience. Later Pandora repositioned itself as an online streaming website which offers free content and music to users, with advertisements. Listeners could use Pandora to listen to pre-set genre stations or create their own.
2007: SoundCloud & Bandcamp
SoundCloud was founded in late 2007 when they realized there was a need for a platform for sound sharing among artists. It started as a project that enabled different artists around the world to collaborate, which was not possible before SoundCloud came into existence. Therefore, it gained credibility based on the fact that it is a sound sharing portal for users all around the world.
In 2008 Bandcamp was formed, which was an online music store as well as a platform to promote independent artists. The main feature of Bandcamp is the part where artists can upload music; they have the option to share their music for free or offer the option to buy the track or album and set their own price for it. Bandcamp has many interesting features, such as the option to donate to artists, free music download, wish lists, joining artist’s email lists and a library of lyrics.
Spotify was launched in 2008, initially as a freemium service which offered music streaming with digital rights management protected content from media companies and record labels. Freemium means that basic features of the service are free, with advertisements. Premium features can be unlocked by paying subscriptions. Features that come with premium are for example improved streaming quality and being able to download music so you can listen to it offline as well. Spotify enables users to create, share and edit playlists, you can share songs on social media and make playlists together, besides that it has a huge music catalogue.
It keeps becoming easier to launch audio streaming services instantly for content owners, so the music industry can expect more audio streaming websites to go forward. Thanks to this audio streaming technology, we are able to stream the audio we want to listen to whenever we want, wherever we want, the only thing we need is the internet!