The History Of Music Distribution

Music, it’s probably been around since the start of time in some shape for form. Of course in the beginning there was no distribution of the music just the local audience. When people released that other people would like to listen to their tunes and were also willing to pay for it well. Thats when the music industry started, building fame and fortune for the performers.

As I kid I can remember listening to LP’s whilst doing my homework, mainly it was Mowtown because my parents had bought those records. Today I am sat here typing, listening to music on my smart speaker. I can also remember as a 16 year old working as a motor mechanic getting a lift in the owners car. The music was an 8-Track and the song was “take a look at my girlfriend, she’s the only one I got”.

From Tape Deck To Streaming

Over the past few years, streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music have revolutionized the way we listen to music. According to recent figures published by the Recording Industry Association of America(RIAA), streaming, both ad-supported and subscription-based, accounted for 83 percent of music industry revenues in the U.S. last year, up from less than 10 percent in 2010. At $7.0 billion, paid subscriptions accounted for the lion’s share of streaming revenue in 2020, which in total amounted to $10.1 billion. To put that in perspective, all physical music sales combined amounted to just $1.1 billion last year, with downloads adding another $674 million to the music industry’s total haul of $12.2 billion.


The Music Formats

The 8-Track, the quality was pretty good but the shear size of the cassettes was its downfall. The garage owner loved is music and the back seat of his Lancia was covered in 8-Track cassettes. The good old vinyl, I had a few of those and I mainly bought singles because the LP’s were too expensive. When I left home I took my parents vinyl with me, I don’t know why but they had just stopped listening to them.

Also at a young age I collected quite a few cassettes over the years, the first time for me that music had become portable.

CD Revolution


I accumulated far too many of these over the years and the amount of space they started taking up was sill. Having been hit by the rise of filesharing and MP3 players in the early 2000s, CD sales nearly halved between 2000 and 2007, which is when smartphones and the first music streaming services emerged to put the final nail in the compact disc’s little round coffin.

The MP3, my brother and an associate of his would buy every CD album released every week. They would rip the music off the disc onto a hard drive. Then they would transfer it to the rest of the music library and then clone the hard drives. At the time they were buying pallet loads of hard drives at a time. They would sell them on eBay as old hard drives because they were upgrading. The clause was “this is my old music hard drive with X amount of albums on, let me know and I will wipe the drive before sending it”.

Of course no-one did as they wanted 100’s of albums at a fraction of the cost.

The Streaming Takeover

Thanks to continuing growth in streaming subscriptions, music industry revenues in the United States grew by 9 percent in 2020. According to the Recording Industry Association of America’s (RIAA) latest Year-End Music Industry Revenue report, 2020 marked the sixth consecutive year of growth for the music industry that had previously struggled with declining revenues for 15 years.

As our chart, based on RIAA data, illustrates, the music industry really has the rise of streaming to thank for its resurgence. While downloads were never quite able to fully offset the declines in CD sales in the early 2000s, streaming revenues have now been able to more than compensate for declining physical format and download revenues for six years. (source)


Who Pays The Artists The Most In Steaming

Following the emergence of CD bootlegs and illegal downloads, the traditional business for music labels and publishers collapsed in the early years of this century. The compact disc had served its time and music downloads weren’t big enough yet to compensate for the losses. The music industry was short on solutions and struggled to develop effective distribution channels in the digital age.

In recent years, on-demand streaming has emerged as a possible solution for the industry’s pains and after years of decline, the music industry has returned to growth. But despite looking like the music industry’s lifeline, streaming services such as Spotify have often been criticized in the past for not paying artists adequately.

The following chart by Statista shows that a single stream is in fact of little value. However, there is a substantial difference between the many services competing for the listeners’ money. Whilst Spotify is constantly keen on cutting royalties, providers like Tidal or Apple Music are offering substantially higher per-stream rates for artists. (source)


So the artists are getting less and less over the years, of course most of them go on to become millionaires through different revenue streams. This can be concerts, merchandise and advertising for big brands. The companies that are propelling the streaming industry seem to be taking more than their fair share of the profits

The Great Vinyl Comeback


Of course for some the vinyl has never gone away, the purest have always cherished their vinyl. My old school friend “Chalky” has weekly deliveries of vinyl and this has been happening for over 30 years. His music is Northern Soul and some of the records he collects are rare and from the USA. He does DJ along with his website and podcast, it’s not a hobby for him it’s an obsession. Below is the start of his new setup after just moving to a new house, it’s not finished just yet. Actually he will probably be tweaking it for years to come. If your into Northern Soul then his site the “Soul Underground” will be a real treat for you.

Direct drive turntables, 2000 watt amp

How Kids Consume Music Today

For me it started with records / vinyl, occasionally the radio the size of a cupboard. Then it went on to the cassettes and then the CD. I did get one of my brothers hard drives filled with music, yes he did charge me money for it. I then liberated an old touch screen monitor from work and then installed MusicMatch Jukebox software.

I used an old music centre like the one below. Then I took out all the old electronics and then fitted my touch screen n the top of the music centre. It had over 30 thousand songs on there, the software was quite good to search tunes and then stack them to play. It was great for parties, people would just choose their tunes and at some point in the night it would play. Oh to be young again

old music centre

My kids use their phones and the smart speaker they have in their rooms. Me, it’s the smart speaker unless I am out running then it’s the iPhone. The running is for my mental heath, especially during lockdown