I Stream, You Stream, Let’s All Stream Music

From 45s to 33 1/3s and tapes to MP3s, nothing has rocked music fans quite like streaming.

At no other time in history have music fans had such unlimited access to music for cheap or free. The growth of streaming music is staggering, already eclipsing all other forms of recording sales (CD, album or MP3). Why is this significant? Let me take you on a  trip through my music listening then and now.

The only form of music I have not owned is the 78 LP. I became addicted to music early. At 10, I listened to my first 45, “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Due to financial restrictions, I was relegated to FM radio until college. This was not all bad, as the new-format FM was static-free stereo and played most every album anyway. In my college years, 1972 to 1976, my roommate purchased 33 1/3 records and let me copy them on my Akai reel-to-reel. Those were my first three-hour playlists. I bought a few cassettes and eight-tracks, but mostly records. Then came the CD craze. I brought back my playlist, but this time I burned it to CDs. By 1990, I had collected over 600 records and CDs. Then, Napster exploded. For five or six years, I was burning CDs from my burgeoning collection of MP3s and copied CDs, which I was now playing on my iPod.

Between 2000 and 2014, I was listening to all formats—FM, albums, CDs, satellite radio, iTunes—and then it hit. At first it was Pandora. Then, I discovered Spotify. Now I have access to any album, artist or song for $10 a month (or free with ads). And thanks to Bluetooth, they go with me everywhere—my phone, iPad, laptop, home stereo—and not only can I create my own playlists, but Spotify also delivers a fresh set of music recommendations each week based on algorithms.

Until three years ago, I was not interested in new music outside of the world of artists I heard on the radio. Since discovering Spotify, I find a new artist every day. I can’t imagine what the world of music would be like if streaming happened 50 years ago.

What does Spotify change? Imagine turning on the radio and regularly hearing new artists that you like or any song you want to hear—anytime. Spotify offers access to new music and old artists you didn’t know existed. Spotify has over 60 million subscribers. That is the tip of the iceberg in a market that could reach a billion. As people’s access to music grows, so does their interest in live music—concerts (big and small) and festivals. And where are the most diverse live music venues in the world? Las Vegas.

In 1991, Las Vegas sold fewer than 200,000 tickets to live music events. In 2017, the city collectively sold close to 3.5 million, with diverse venues like The Smith Center, House of Blues, The Joint and T-Mobile Arena. In 2020, two venues will top that menu: Madison Square Garden Corporation will build the first music-only, 18,000-seat indoor theater, and the Raiders will build their stadium.

Looking back at my journey (the cost and clumsiness) of accessing music, I envy those just getting started. You have the entire world at your fingertips.

Pat Christenson is the president of Las Vegas Events and the author of the book Rock Vegas and the blog rockvegasnation.com, which chronicles the evolution of live music in Las Vegas.