Engineering Inventions That Forever Changed the Music Industry

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In 2018, digital streaming accounted for 46.8% of the music industry’s global revenue. Physical revenue is declining, and digital streaming is now the preferred method of music consumption. The shift could only have only occurred with advancements in digital technology and electrical engineering. From the MP3 player and iPod to Bluetooth technology, the work of engineers has significantly impacted the music industry.

For the Love of Music

In 2018, the average consumer spent 17.8 hours every week, or 2.5 hours per day, listening to music. Thanks to digital streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music, on-demand access to music has increased substantially.

How engineers are leading the sustainability and evolution of digital music streaming.

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Trends in Music Consumption

Across the globe in 2018, 75% of consumers used smartphones to listen to music. 86% listen to music via on-demand streaming, and 47% of the time spent doing so was through YouTube. Only 25% of the time spent listening to music was through the radio. Furthermore, 90% of Americans who own a smart speaker use it for music-listening purposes. Contrast this with CDs, which accounted for just 33% of music listened to in cars in 2016.

The Streaming Market

51 million Americans have a paid subscription to a streaming service, 20 million on which share a paid account. Another 29 million are either on free trials or unpaid subscription plans. A whopping 157 million stream music for free without trials via platforms like YouTube.

Spotify and Apple Music represent 80% of the American music streaming market. While both have 26 million subscribers, Spotify’s “premium” worldwide subscribers double Apple Music’s global users.

The Dawn of a New Era

The end of the 2000s decade saw a flurry of activity that turned the page in music consumption and brought on the era of digital streaming. Music is now shared and listened to through a variety of formats, devices, and technologies.

Streaming Formats, Devices, and Technologies

The tech that arguably started it all was MP3, which is a form of compressing and decompressing data in audio files. Developed in the late 1980s, MP3 found success in sports broadcasting but was unpopular in commercial music applications. However, it was widely used to download pirated albums via fire-sharing sties. Eventually, it gained prominence with the release of iTunes and the iPod in 2001.

Another popular format, the iPod, is a portable music player developed by Apple. Inspired by the problems of the MP3 player market in the late 1990s, the device attempted to improve the MP3 player user experience. It succeeded once it was unveiled on October 23, 2001, but it was a team effort. Companies PortalPlayer, Fostex, and Pixo created the specialized MP3-playing chipset, earbuds, and operating system, respectively.

A third game-changing format was digital streaming, which was the method of consuming audio or video content without having to wait for a full download. The concept essentially began with Napster, which was introduced as a free peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing service for transferring and consuming music and attracted the ire of the music industry along the way. Pandora was created in 2000, featured an algorithm to personalize music playlist, and eventually offered ad-free listening for a fee. iTunes was created by Apple a year later as a store for music and encouraged the discovery of new music without requiring users to download the songs – a tactic that helped usher in the internet radio era. Spotify was founded in 2008 and increased the competition for digital music streaming.

Finally, Bluetooth technology used its wireless communication protocol for connecting devices and facilitating file transfers to get into the music-playing game. Today, it’s used to connect speakers, headphones, smartphones, and other devices.

The Role of Engineers in the Music Industry

Electrical and electronics engineers play a prominent role in developing technologies and devices for music consumption. In the future, music consumption will be shaped by the internet of musical things (IoMusT), and engineers will be called upon to develop solutions for electronic and technological challenges relating to music.

The responsibilities of the electrical and electronics engineer include the design and development of electronic components for products and applications, investigating consumer complaints, and developing testing and maintenance procedures. The role’s 2018 median salary was around $99,000. While a bachelor’s degree was sufficient for entry-level positions, more advanced positions may require a master’s degree.

Engineers are indeed needed. Devices like smart instruments, musical haptic wearables, and intelligent mixing consoles prove that music creation and consumption is still evolving, and engineers face a host of challenges to get them market-ready, such as improving synchronization and scalability support. Once this happens, the applications can range from augmented and interactive concert experiences and audience participation to music e-learning and smart studio production. The technologies leading the charge here include wireless sensor networks (WSNs), the Internet of things (IoT), and tactile internet.


The future of sharing and listening to music will depend on the contributions of qualified electrical and electronics engineers. The next iPod is somewhere in the minds of creative innovators and skilled engineers, waiting to be discovered. To learn more, check out the infographic below created by Ohio University’s Online Master of Science in Electrical Engineering program.