Downloaded music files may soon become the cassette tapes of digital music as streaming audio services such as Pandora and Spotify take over.
A report from research firm NPD Group shows that more people are listening to streaming music and fewer are clicking on the music files stored on their computers. The decline in music files played was small — just 2 percent of people listened less to files. But at the same time, Internet radio listening on sites such as Pandora, increased 27 percent from last year, while on-demand services like Spotify increased 18 percent.
However, the oldest tech rules. The report showed that AM/FM radio remains the most popular. But streaming music (Internet radio and on-demand) replaced the compact disc, which dropped from second to third place. MP3s stored on a computer came in fourth.
If this trend continues, how we listen to — and what we listen to — could change. As it seems with all changes in music technology, people get something while simultaneously giving something up.
Digital music files gave people convenience and quantity over quality. You could find almost any song you wanted and within seconds have a copy on your computer. With large hard drives, many people accumulated hundreds of gigabytes worth of music that would take months to listen to.
But as we move away from the computer to mobile devices, storage becomes a major concern. Streaming options alleviate local storage concerns and increase the pool of music options. On-demand services Spotify and Rdio each claim access to 18 million songs.
The downside to mobile streaming: monthly bandwidth caps. With most smartphone data plans limiting usage to 2 GB per month, you really can't stream unlimited amounts — even though the music is there. For example, listening to Pandora for an hour a day for a month would eat up about 1.6 GB of your data plan.
With music and mobile data plans out of sync, a mix of music sources seems like the best strategy for the time being: some streaming, some MP3s and some good old AM/FM to round it out.