2010s - rise of streaming

Ten Ways The 2010s Changed Music Forever

Building on both the rise of the internet and the boom in home studios throughout the 2000s, the 2010s ushered in numerous leaps and innovations that rippled across the whole spectrum of music. From slick software, smart noise reducing speakers, the guiding hand of artificial intelligence and the mainstream explosion of streaming platforms upturning the aural applecart. We explain why the 2010s changed music, and has set us on an unchangeable course…

Here at Audio Media International HQ, we like to keep our eyes fixed on the very latest jaw-dropping music technology of today – and what might be lurking around the corner, but it always helps to reflect on the extent in which the music technology landscape has altered. A scant three decades ago, home music production required the skilled connecting of multiple pieces of hardware, live sound was frequently mired by inescapable atmospheric issues, the popular music chart was the central pillar of what was hot and ‘artificial intelligence’ was a concept confined mainly to the realms of science fiction.

As we near the middle of space year 2022, we find an almost unrecognisable playing field. Though the 2000s saw most of us dive into the World Wide Web, and we watched home computers grow from suspicious intruders lurking in the corners of spare rooms into our indispensable modern companions, we’d argue it was the 2010s which saw the most significant swings take place for musicians.

Across hardware and software, online and offline, live and in-studio and, perhaps most importantly, in the minds of music makers. Technological and cultural changes made us re-think both what we could achieve – and why we were doing it.

To illustrate how the 2010s changed music, we’ve cast our mind back across the last decade, and pinpointed ten of the most momentous sea changes that have set us on an unchangeable course.

10: High speed remote collaboration allowed us to make music with anyone, anywhere
As the 2010s gathered apace, e-mail, messenger and rudimentary social media stopped being the only ways to communicate. Faster speeds meant the ability to see our friends and colleagues via platforms like Skype. The type of lag-free video-calling we’d long been promised by Star Trek suddenly became reality. While video-calling presented real-time music collaboration opportunities via screen-sharing, software such as the DAW-syncing Splice, the free online music-making hub BandLab and in-DAW additions such as Cubase’s session-sharing plugin VST Transit were all indicative of a new trend for modern music makers – the encouraging of long distance music collaboration.

2010s changed music with remote collaboration


Now, with increasingly slick tech, such as Audiomovers’ Listento, making the process of sending lossless multichannel audio globally super smooth, this decade will undoubtedly see more great work made together by musicians who’ve possibly, never even met.

9: The vinyl revival guaranteed that the legacy format will never die
Written off as a long-dead relic of a bygone age, and a symbolic totem of music’s mythological past, vinyl’s glorious comeback in the early-to-mid 2010s astounded technologists and those who believed that the web’s de-physicalising of music would sound the death knell of the album. Perhaps in part due to the ease in which anybody could devour an artists’ back catalogue via streaming, the vinyl comeback was enticing for those wanting to underscore their commitment to their favourite artists – and physically own their cherished records as physical objects.

2010s vinyl revival


By 2014, vinyl sales surpassed 1 million for the first time since 1996, and as we move in the 2020s, the surge of interest shows little signs of abating, with 2021 marking the 14th consecutive year of growth since 2007. While physical manufacturing threats continue to dog the format (as does the issues pertaining to the small number of manufacturing plants) the original music listening medium remains a glorious way to enjoy music, and may outlast us all.

8: The refinement of festival and outdoor sound means compromise-free experience – wherever you stand
All too frequently plagued by inconsistent sound, festival-covering loudspeakers have long needed the input of skilled live sound engineers to make them work effectively. Even so, a surge in noise abatement orders and the difficulty of covering the span of the stage area of festivals such as Glastonbury, Coachella and the like have meant that if you’re standing in the wrong place, you’ll be getting a duff festival experience. Not so in the 2010s. As we’ve recently highlighted, Martin Audio’s MLA Loudspeaker Arrays have proved to be one such solution. Controlled by some adept software, Martin Audio’s multicellular loudspeaker arrays are a notable example of how these sound issues has been addressed, and are able to cleverly direct consistently impactful audio to the audience’s ears, while entirely preventing any spillage polluting the surrounding area. There’s also the impressive K series from L-Acoustics which uses 3D modelling to present the most finely-tuned audio presentation for the event in question. To put things simply, the days of tinny, quiet PA sound are done.

7: More people became enamoured by compression-free high-res audio
With the adoption of streaming, and the increased storage space on our smartphones, people en masse totally stopped regarding the humble CD – and its pristine sound quality – as the be-all and end-all of music listening through the 2010s. But, with digital audio came a cost, and in the early days of the internet the speeds required to transmit CD’s supreme 1411kbps quality lag-free just wasn’t there. Today, that’s a very different story. With the likes of Qobuz, TIDAL and Amazon Music HD granting us easy access to full-frequency, full-fat audio.


2010s growth of lossless

In the 2010s, music changed forever. Lossless audio stopped being the domain of the finickiest of audiophiles and started being appreciated by casual music listeners. Whether you can truly hear too much of a difference between a smartly compressed track and the same song in high-res is down to the sharpness of your ears. But, the quality benchmark has certainly been raised.

6: The quality of consumer grade music listening technology increased
With the flourishing of crystal clear music came the need for even more sophisticated home listening devices. The leap forward in consumer grade tech has been tremendous over the 2010s, with venerable Bluetooth transmission now giving way to music control over Wi-Fi and the much greater ease in which you can set up multiple room speakers over a closed network. Smart room speakers, such as those built by Sonos, Bose, Apple or Amazon – pull in the audio straight from built-in versions of the streaming platforms you’re subscribed to. Couple that with voice-command and you really can’t help but be reminded of the rapid rate in which we’ve arrived at a near-magical future. Just one of the ways in which the 2010s changed music forever, and we’ve not even mentioned headphones yet…

5: We learned that our grassroots music venues need our support
Though we’ve recently covered the devastating impact of the Covid pandemic on grassroots venues, the effect of 2020’s global public health crisis only accelerated the issues that were already causing much strife to the live sector. Throughout the preceding decade, concerns such as increased business rates, upkeep costs, an increase in property development leading to a flurry of noise complaints and demanding rents all piled the pressure on to a core fault line – that 93% of venue operators do not actually own their venues, resulting in widespread unwillingness from venue owners to work to resolve the ever-sprawling web of issues. The Music Venue Trust was established in 2014 to help the grassroots sector fight back, and is now pushing to bring swathes of the UK’s most cherished venues under collective ownership. “If we can resolve the issue of ownership, it would strengthen every other aspect of their resilience to these challenges.” The MVT’s CEO Mark Dayyd told us recently.

4: Artificial Intelligence began to help us write, produce and master our music
Infused throughout our software as the 2010s marched on, artificial intelligence (or machine learning algorithms) began to prove their mettle. Going well beyond what even the most seasoned producers were capable of, smart software such as iZotope’s RX 9, Zynaptiq’s Adaptiverb and Oeksound’s Soothe 2 sped up previously long-winded audio surgery, with millions of on-the-fly calculations determining the best course of action for our unique mixes. The growth of machine learning in the 2010s coincided with the increasing desire that many home producers felt to be entirely self-sufficient.

2010s AI boom

Handing the task of mastering up to well-trained, ever-evolving digital ears as opposed to a outsourcing the process to a human mastering engineer was one such area where AI has bloomed, just take a scan of the number of online mastering platforms ready and willing to tackle the job. It’s likely that artificial intelligence will continue to clear more and more previously inaccessible routes. But while it will undoubtedly empower many, it leaves some on edge, as we investigated recently.

3: Artificial Intelligence began making our music for us
While we’re on the topic of artificial intelligence, there’s another major way in which it has shook the foundations of the music world across the last ten years – and that’s by its growing role as a creator of music in its own right. Now increasingly relied on by creatives working in film, television or online as a way of coming up with instant original cues to fit their projects, platforms such as Aiva, Amper and Loudly AI Studio each provide quick ways to generate professional sounding, AI-crafted cuts. Taking simple genre or mood-based instructions, and using neural networks to scan huge libraries of tracks, recognise similarities and assemble their own takes, these AI-platforms have understandably been controversial. Jobbing soundtrack-ers have undoubtedly started to feel like this type of encroachment might put them out of work. While, hopefully this won’t be the case, it’s certain that we’re going to be seeing a great deal more computer-brain-built music through the 21st century.

2: The increase in computing power granted slicker digital audio workstations and plugins
One of the biggest ways in which the 2010s changed music forever, has been the overall advancement of the quality and capability of music technology. DAWs like Logic, Pro Tools, Cubase and Ableton Live flowered through the last decade, becoming ‘must-haves’ even for those just casually interested in music-making. Alongside our slicker DAWs, came mountains of colourful plugins, interfaces, hardware, software (and in-between) synths, a slew of virtual instruments, virtual mixing and mastering assistants and more.

2010s changed music with better DAWs

This has made the last decade the easiest in human history to experiment with any sounds you wanted, and build your own release-quality music. But while the complete swing to computer-centric music-production enabled people to craft songs without studio costs (or needing to get signed) another shift meant that it was harder than ever to get what you’d made heard…

1: The take-up of streaming platforms fundamentally changed how listeners think about music – and how we make our music
When it comes to the intrinsic structure of the music world, the most important development across the last ten years has undoubtedly been the mainstream move to streaming services as the delivery portal of choice for today’s newest songs. While subscription-based access grants the consumer an incredible offering of pretty much anything and everything, available to download instantly, it also leaves artists, songwriters and many labels struggling to recoup – as well as stand-out in a widening ocean of noise. It’s a complex problem we’ve covered at length in recent features. Yet, aside from the financial instability of the streaming dynamic, it’s also shifted the way artists and producers *approach* music-making.

2010s changed music with the boom of streaming

The idea of singles and even albums as a concept seems to mean less in a world wherein listeners are free to re-sequence at will. It’s also made it much harder to pinpoint where the mainstream currently is – easy enough to determine in previous, chart-oriented, decades. In the eclectic worlds of our playlists, genres old and new sit together. So, is streaming a good thing? For listeners, undoubtedly, though it’s undeniable that our rapid take-up of streaming has left things in a dizzy state of flux. The 2010s changed music, forever, but what happens next, we’ll see…