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Online Music Streaming: Past, Present and Future

Debarpita Banerjee Published on : 22 August 2017
The Evolution of Online Audio Streaming

Music is an integral part of most people’s lives. The “music gene” can be traced back to thousands of years ago with biological roots pointing toward cultural events such as tribal dances and religious ceremonies. It is believed that such ancient cultural traditions across the globe led to the inception of singing, chanting, or drumming. And with time, this “music gene” has seen a remarkable evolution, from ancient traditional and cultural events to contemporary music concerts, and now – online music streaming!

And this evolution is multi-faceted, affecting our overall interaction with music. In ancient times, people had to travel to a specific place to enjoy music. But, there has been a world of transformation from that era to the age when the phonograph was invented. Record stores came into being followed by vinyl and cassettes. And some years later,  CDs and DVDs gained popularity. If we start reminiscing about this nostalgic journey, then a whole day might pass?. 

So, let’s skip delving into these areas and quickly jump to the digital era of MP3s, internet radio, and ultimately online audio streaming.

Evolution of Online Music Streaming: How did it all start?

If you listen to music on the go with popular apps such as Spotify or SoundCloud then you might have wondered about the evolution of music streaming.

So, we have put together a series of events that are believed to have led to the rise of music streaming.

#1 – Launch of IUMA – 1993 

The story of music streaming unfolds with the inception of the Internet Underground Music Archive (IUMA).

IUMA was started in 1993 and provided a venue for unsigned artists (independent artists) to share their music and communicate with their audience. The purpose was to let them distribute their music via unconventional channels rather than distributing through a record company – IUMA.

IUMA was started in 1993 and provided a venue for unsigned artists (independent artists) to share their music and communicate with their audience. The purpose was to let them distribute their music via unconventional channels rather than distributing through a record company. IUMA.

Artists could register with a free URL and a web page to present music over the internet in streamable, downloadable, and internet radio format. It offered an easy-to-use web page for band members and enabled them to upload and distribute music with zero bandwidth fees.

It also allowed artists to communicate with their fans. In 1998, IUMA was sold to Emusic. Emusic changed the website’s look and feel and offered three different formats: internet radio, live streaming feed, or a download option where fans could download songs directly to their computer.

#2 – MP3 came into existence – 1993

The MP3 format came into existence the same year IUMA was established. It was a breakthrough in audio technology achieved by the Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG). MP3 enabled compressing sound sequences into small file sizes for digital storage and transmission. 

Although this isn’t the only file format currently available, various forms of digital music transfer and consumption followed suit after its inception. There were various sites offering the ability to download music in MP3 format including Napster.

#3 – Napster was founded – late 1990s

Coming to the late 90s, Napster came into existence at the opportune time when digital music had become a big thing and people used to play digital music using a CD player. Most people connected to the internet using a dial-up connection.

With Napster, you could essentially have an audio file that 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.

Even though the sound quality wasn’t always the best, MP3 file downloads in this manner become a rage due to the ease at which the latest chartbusters could be shared. So, in a way Napster kind of pioneered the internet-downloaded MP3s which went on to become the future of music distribution.

#4 – The launch of iPod – 2001

iPod was born on 23rd October 2001. iPod was a Mac-only product when it was launched, which meant it was compatible with either Mac OS 9 or Mac OSX 10.1.

Due to its small size and ease of usage, it stood out from the competition which resulted in higher sales. At the time of its launch, music could be added to an iPod from CDs and other online sources.

The initial success of the iPod and a line of Apple’s successive products fueled the explosive growth of this humongous company.

#5 – introduction – 2002

One of the first online music streaming platforms, Last Fm was founded in the United Kingdom in Jan 2002. It contains several social features and can recommend artists based on users’ favorites.

It used a music recommendation algorithm called “Audioscrobbler” which takes each user’s details and builds a detailed profile for them according to their musical taste. So it takes details of frequently played tracks either from Internet radio stations or the user’s computer or other portable music devices.

Once this information is obtained, it is added to’s database either via the music player or via a plugin installed on the music player on the user’s device.

This data is then rendered on the user’s profile page in addition to a compiled list of reference pages for individual artists.

Let your users create personalized playlists and enqueue your favorites with Muvi. Sign up for free.
Let your users create personalized playlists and enqueue your favorites with Muvi. Sign up for free.

#6 – iTunes Store launch – 2003

Apple unveiled the iTunes Store in April 2003 when the realization dawned that music could otherwise be easily transferred from online sources and CDs to iPods. So, the aim of introducing the iTunes Store was to provide listeners with a legitimate source of accessing music by purchasing individual songs for as low as 99 cents per song without any subscription fees.

This became hugely popular since it not only enabled burning songs onto an unlimited number of CDs for personal use but also 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.

#7 – Pandora Internet Radio launched – 2005

Pandora Internet Radio or Pandora Radio came into existence in September 2005 with the aim of having a separate, individualized radio station for each user to access just “good” music without the “junk” that other users prefer.

So it was the first internet radio for personalized online audio streaming. After its initial vision of producing customized radio stations, it repositioned itself as an online streaming website to offer users free content/music, albeit with advertisements.

So listeners could tune into preset genre stations or other users’ preferred stations or they could create their own. 

#8 – SoundCloud launched – 2007

Just like Flickr was a service for images and YouTube for videos, there was nothing of that sort for audio or sounds in the mid-2000s. SoundCloud was founded in the latter half of 2007 when the need for a platform for sound sharing among artists was identified.

It started as a project that let different artists around the world collaborate which was not possible before SoundCloud. So it has gained credibility based on the fact that it is a sound-sharing portal for users all across the globe.

#9 – Bandcamp formed – 2007

Bandcamp offered an online music store that was launched in 2008 as well as a platform for promoting independent artists.

Its core feature is a customizable microsite where artists can upload music, and either shares them for free or offer an option to purchase the track or album at their preferred price.

Bandcamp had some exciting features such as

  • Free music download
  • Option to donate to artists.
  • Free track or album upon joining the artist’s email list.
  • Purchase music and send it as a gift.
  • A library of lyrics.
  • Add to wish list.

#10 – Spotify introduced – 2008

Spotify was launched in October 2008 as a freemium service that offers music streaming with digital rights management (DRM) protected content from record labels and media companies.

Freemium refers to basic features that are free with advertisements, and premium features that are available upon paid subscriptions, which would also include improved streaming quality and offline music downloads. Spotify lets users create, edit, and share playlists; share tracks on social media and make playlists with other users. It provides access to more than 30 million songs.

Spotify is available in various parts of the world including Europe, the Americas, Australia, and parts of Asia.

#11 – Entry of Apple Music – 2015

Apple Music was launched in June 2015 with the intention of becoming a “cultural platform” and a “one-stop shop for pop culture”. Users can select music to stream to their preferred device. 

They also have the option to listen to existing, curated playlists and access the entire iTunes library.

Beats 1 is its internet radio station that is broadcasted in over 100 countries, 24 hours a day. Apple Music offers paid-only service for new subscribers after the initial 3 months free trial period, which is one of the factors that sets it apart from other music streaming services.

The Rise in Popularity of Online Music Streaming: Statistics and Projections  

There was a time when our grandparents used to listen to music using tape recorders. But, in today’s times, online audio streaming is the go-to mode of listening to music. That is why most of the new songs are now released online first. So, we can definitely say that online audio streaming is not only popular, but it has actually become a way of life, and every one of us is well aware of what is audio streaming

This growth in popularity has been gradual and consistent. And this growth is expected to remain consistent in the coming years as well. We have tried to capture the popularity of online audio streaming in the past five years and the coming five years in the graph given below.

The number of online audio streaming users in the past five years and the coming five years.
The number of online audio streaming users in the past five years and the coming five years.

As you can see, in 2017, online music streaming was popular amongst 420.6 million music lovers across the globe, but by 2023, this number has already risen to 919 million. By 2027, online music streaming will have 1,119.9 million users. 

And it is obvious that with the rise in popularity, the online music streaming market size and revenue will also increase manyfold, which is projected in the graph given below.

online music streaming market size and revenue
Online music streaming market size and revenue

As you can see, the current market size of music streaming is US $15.19 billion, which is expected to rise to UD $18.56 billion by 2027. 

If we plot a graph with the percentage of revenue growth, it will look something like this ?

Online music streaming percentage of revenue growth
Online music streaming percentage of revenue growth

In this image, we can see a clear spike during 2019-20. And if you can remember, this time coincides with the global COVID-19 pandemic. But, even after the pandemic ended, online music streaming continued its slow and steady growth. 

Top Online Music Streaming Platforms in 2023

With a tremendous rise in popularity, we have seen a tremendous rise in the number of online music streaming platforms too! As all these platforms offer some unique content, it often becomes difficult to choose one among them. 

So, after studying a lot of parameters, we have selected the top five music streaming platforms in 2023, and we will tell you what we liked the most about them.

#1 – Spotify

Spotify is one of the pioneers of online audio streaming, and probably one of the most well-recognized too! 

Things we like about Spotify

  • Very good option if you are looking for free music streaming options 
  • Now includes podcasts, audio stories, and more! 
  • You can create your own playlist in a jiffy
  • You can follow your favorite artists and creators, and get notified whenever they release their new tracks              

Things we do not like about Spotify  

  • Sometimes, the ads in the free version can be too irritating             

#2 – Apple Music 

The go-to music streaming platform for iOS users, Apple Music is known for offering premium quality streaming experiences. 

Things we like about Apple Music

  • Gets combined with your iTunes library
  • You can control your playlist using Siri
  • Enjoy spatial music at a minimum cost

Things we do not like about Apple Music

  • Not suitable for android or windows users

#3 – Tidal

Tidal is a complete package for music lovers, where they listen to their favorite music alongside enjoying concert videos!

Things we like about Tidal

  • Lots of videos and concerts
  • Amazing sound quality with Dolby Atmos
  • Free music is available too!              

Things we do not like about Tidal

  • A bit tricky UI-UX
  • High-resolution music requires specialized decoders

#4 – Qobuz

Best option for lovers of high-resolution music streaming, which does not require any specialized decoder!

Things we like about Qobuz

  • Easy-to-use app
  • 24-bit music at affordable price
  • Download enabled               

Things we do not like about Qobuz

  • Spatial audio is not available   

#5 – Amazon Music Unlimited

If you are looking for something more than just music streaming, then Amazon Music is the perfect destination for you! Combine it with Amazon prime membership and enjoy amazing shopping offers, movies, and more!

Things we like about Amazon Music Unlimited

  • Lyrics automatically get displayed on the now-playing screen
  • Amazing spatial music streaming experience with Dolby Atmos 
  • Comparatively cheaper if you analyze the combined benefits of Amazon Prime Membership.           

Things we do not like about Amazon Music Unlimited

  • Less-developed artist profiles
  • It does not provide any music locker

The Bottom Line

Craze of online music streaming is here to stay. And if you are a music content creator, then it is the best time to start your own music streaming platform. If you are worried about coding and other technical nitty-gritty, then Muvi One is here to help you out!

With cloud-based hybrid OTT services like Muvi One, you can launch an audio streaming service instantly, without writing a single line of code. 

And you get everything you need out of the box, including

  • Built-in CDN Network
  • Integrated Dolby Atmos support
  • Multiple encoding profiles
  • Author profiles
  • Playlist Creation, and much more! 

Try it out yourself! Sign up to start your 14-day free trial today!


What is video encoding

Written by: Debarpita Banerjee

Debarpita is a Content Writer with Muvi. With around 2 years of experience in content creation, she has worked across industries like SaaS, EdTech, eLearning, AR-VR, and Metaverse. She believes in delivering content that can be of some value to the readers. In her free time, she likes to try her hand at website and app development.

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