What Is The Future of Music in the Digital Age?

What Is The Future of Music in the Digital Age?

 Music throughout the years has evolved in sound, the way it’s distributed, and how it’s listened to by audiences. According to Rolling Stone magazine and other music media, the future of music in the digital age is focused on how streaming services will differentiate themselves from the competition, how artists will reach their fanbase, and revisiting popular music industry trends of the past with innovations, such as the modern record player

With the popularity of social media, digitalization, and the nature of immediacy among today’s generation, everyone in the music business will have to continue innovating to capture and sustain interest across multiple platforms. 

Streaming Services Differentiating Themselves from the Competition

As streaming services become more customizable, the numbers are projected to grow. Universal Music Group reported a year-over-year streaming revenue growth of approximately $500 million in 2019 and $611 million in 2018. Additionally, in the Rolling Stone article mentioned above, it was also cited that Goldman Sachs forecasts the recording industry will boom once more and generate $41 billion by 2030, well over half of which will come from paid streaming.

This is largely due to audio streaming services like Spotify, which allows music lovers to curate playlists, share songs with other music consumers, and receive recommendations of similar bands and tracks. To invite an even greater audience, streaming services must optimize the consumer experience even further and offer as many options as possible. A few ways this can be achieved is by: 

  • Segmenting songs by genre, artist, situation, or mood
  • Extending the number of songs a person can stream per day and still avoid ads
  • Optimizing the use of online tools like Twitter, YouTube, and online shopping to promote artist engagement

With any music technology unveiled going forward, there will also be increased attention on protecting artists’ rights and preserving record sounds so future generations can listen to and enjoy the music in the same way it was originally intended. Fans have become so intertwined with their favorite artists’ lives, they also feel a sense of camaraderie and loyalty that involves protecting the integrity and value of the music.

Artists Crafting Creative Ways to Connect with Fans

Another nod to the future of music in the digital age is the staying power of Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and other social media networks that have allowed artists to connect with listeners in inventive ways. From personal, livestream announcements to online concerts and one-to-one interactions, fans feel closer to their artists now more than ever. Plus, it gives a greater chance of discovery for up-and-coming artists and songwriters just entering the landscape. 

In terms of how technology has changed music over the years, one key contributor takes the lead. The advent of social media has changed the game in many ways, including recording studios and execs approaching public relations and music journalism. A genuine connection lends itself to increased revenue streams as loyal fan bases are built. This has led musicians to guest star on podcasts, perform on radio shows, and answer fan questions in real-time through popular online media. 

Radio airtime used to be the number one way to get songs trending and record sales soaring. Although more people face less commute time than in years past, listening to the radio is becoming fewer and far between. It’s likely the younger generation isn’t going to hear hit singles for the first time on the radio. Instead, they’ll be introduced to them directly from the artist through a digital album release available for download at midnight promoted through a social media push. 


Key Innovators Advancing the Music Industry

The future of music in the digital era also focuses on other content streams in order to get more exposure for up-and-coming artists or musicians focused on reinventing their sound or brand. There are plenty of innovators in the industry looking toward the key role music will play in the future and how audiences will continue to shape the trends.

For example, Steereo CEO Anne Kavanagh leads the startup that pays ride-sharing drivers to play independent artists’ music. It echoes how promoters in the past used to pass out flyers and mixtapes to passersby on the sidewalk. A growing number of people rely on Uber and Lyft, which makes it the perfect vehicle (pun intended) for indie music artist promotion.  

Another creative player in today’s music industry is Dominic Houston, Head of Music at Netflix. Many mainstream artists have produced concert films for the popular video-streaming service, and many Netflix Original shows and movies curate their soundtrack list before even casting its actors. Lining up the perfect song to play as an impactful part of a well-talked about movie or show is the recipe for creating enough buzz to start a search trend and have an artists’ musical clout skyrocket. 

It’s not just record label executives who will drive the business in the future. It’s a collaboration from multiple sources that’ll define why a song, musician, or album will succeed where others fail.

Following the Timeline of Music History As Preparation for the Future

Before knowing where we’re headed, it’s important to recognize where we’ve been. In 1947, vinyl became the primary source of playing music until the mid-’60s when cassette tapes became the must-have music listening device. During this transition of music technology, the popular sound for the new generation switched from big band music to the introduction of rock and roll and Motown sounds. Music production relied on songwriters and studio bands hired by record labels to write and perform music for several mainstream artists. 

Jumping to the late 1970s, the recording industry transitioned to CDs. Like the look of a record but in a much smaller format, the compact disc also made way for Discmans as the successor to Walkmans as the next must-have. During this era, recording labels relied on music stores to carry their albums. They set up individual stations where people could listen to snippets of songs before completing their purchase. 

The radio still played the leading Top 40 hits based on genre. To find new music or artists that didn’t regularly hit the airwaves, though, you had to search local record shops, read magazine reviews from journalists, and swap music interests with friends. Fast forward to the mid-90s and into today’s music scene where the evolution of streaming music has continued to grow. 

Arguably one of the biggest game changers in how people found music was the introduction of Napster in 1999. Although streaming audio on the internet debuted a few years prior, Napster was a peer-to-peer file sharing network that allowed music listeners to download, share, and burn music files onto blank CDs. The problem with streaming services in the early days is that it was essentially piracy and served no protection for artist copyright or revenue streams. In 2013, IFPI data showed revenue dipped to below $15 billion, cut in half from a little over a decade before. Once Apple iTunes was launched in 2003 and followed by other online music technology, such as Pandora and Spotify, people had the option of listening to music both legally and digitally. 

Switching from Analog to Online Changed the Industry Forever

Currently, music production can be done in various studios with artists spread out across the country, if not the globe. As for sharing musical interests with others, everything is primarily done digitally, through online chat forums, Facebook groups, Instagram livestreams, and other community-based platforms that don’t require in-person meetings.

Customized streaming services, YouTube music videos, and short previews on Instagram are ways artists now promote their albums, tours, and other creative endeavors. It takes but a few minutes for breaking news to spread for popular musicians because they’ve curated a core group of fans that will do a lot of the promotion for them. 

In 2019, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) and AudienceNet reported 89 percent of its survey respondents used some kind of on-demand streaming service, while 64 percent listened to music through audio-streaming services. Additionally, the overall number of hours people listened to music increased to 18 hours a week, an increase from 17.8 percent from the year prior. The future of music in the digital age grants greater accessibility that provides opportunity for musicians and record companies to reach a wider audience.

However, as technology continues to grow, music consumers still appreciate simpler times and enjoy the vintage aspect of the devices used in decades past. According to Statista, vinyl album sales in the U.S. have grown for the 14th consecutive year. In 2019, sales were up by 14 percent compared to 2018, with nearly 19 million LPs sold. 

A once nearly extinct technology has created an impact once more over the past decade and a half, as music lovers are testing different ways to appreciate music.  Regardless of the avenue of which they listen to music, fans want to connect with artists and know they have options for how they’re able to enjoy it.


  1. https://www.rollingstone.com/pro/news/streaming-transformed-music-business-whats-next-914029/
  2. https://blogs.uoregon.edu/martitscw14gateway/timeline/
  3. https://musically.com/2019/09/24/music-listening-2019-ifpi-report/
  4. https://www.rollingstone.com/pro/news/streaming-transformed-music-business-whats-next-914029/
  5. https://www.statista.com/chart/7699/lp-sales-in-the-united-states/#