The evolution of music devices is constantly evolving. The way we’ve listened to music over the past 25 years will amaze you and most of these devices you probably don’t even know exist!
Every street has at least one person walking down the street wearing the apple white headphones. They may shake their heads to the sound of music or weave through crowds to work while keeping their heads down.
These music streaming services all point in the same direction: music is essential to our culture and our daily lives. It is a crucial element for humanity on a personal, societal and technological level. The gadgets we use to listen to music have a direct impact on today’s technological environment.
Listening to music can be as much of an experience as the music itself, depending on the quality of the equipment we use. Similar to how artists, styles, and trends evolved, so does how we learned about them.
Over the past quarter century, we have listened to music in different ways. This article explores how we’ve listened to music over the past 25 years.
CD/Double Cassette/Radio Mini System
The little system my parents bought me at the local Caldor store in the 1990s was the one I relied on the most as a kid for listening to music. It was my primary method of discovering new music, especially hip-hop, for many years before I had a CD burner.
Rap music has been marked with a PARENTAL ADVISORY notice due to concerns about the dangers of explicit lyrics. Whenever my cousins sent me new CDs like “Enter the Wu-Tang Clan”, I made cassette copies of the songs. I spent a lot of time at school listening to New York’s Hot 97 rap station instead of doing my homework. Angie Martinez and Funkmaster Flex will be on duty during the afternoon shifts. I used to compile mixtapes to allow me to take long bus rides to school and study late at night. Of course, with dad-approved radio edits of my favorite songs.
Sharp portable minidisc player
Quickly switching between my favorite songs from Radiohead, Bjork and the Smashing Pumpkins while driving around suburban Long Island in my used 1999 Oldsmobile was an important consideration for me. When I got my car there was no iPod and a cassette deck was the only option.
This is the MiniDisc player, a small metallic square that you can use to record stereo mixes onto floppy disks. This allowed me to create my own mini mixes one song at a time using a cassette converter. I was able to quickly play music from the MiniDisc player with the press of a button. No matter how big the potholes, this gadget did not jump out, unlike a CD player. He had a magical quality about it.
My favorite song on the white album, “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide,” played on my MiniDisc as I drove home from high school one day. As I shouted and shouted over the music with my hands clapping on the steering wheel, I listened to it through the car speakers. As a result, I was inspired to think of myself as a superhero. It didn’t last very long.
HitClips enjoyed a brief but substantial heyday when CD players disappeared and the iPod gained momentum. Primary school children were targeted with these products. They looked like little boomboxes, cat heads, and, oddly enough, pens. They were tiny musical devices that could be taken anywhere.
There was one headphone in particular that had a very short wire and sounded like a mixtape. You purchased $3.99 cartridges that each included a one-minute mix of a song for your collection. Typically a quick intro and three choruses mixed together. To make matters worse, some of my headphones got water damaged due to frequent use in the bathroom.
An informal term for these devices has been “toys”. By age 7, HitClips was a serious listening device. Probably the only culturally acceptable listening device. My buddies were more concerned with putting on a pair of glitter bells than discussing the intricacies of music quality.
Radio Shack Computer Speakers
Since my freshman year of college in 1999, RadioShack computer speakers have been an integral part of my life. I used Winamp to play new MP3s a number of times over dorm speakers when I was in college. I turned to more singer-songwriter music like Ben Folds, Guster and Elliott Smith during those difficult years. I loved Wilco’s acoustic version of “I’m Always in Love” and a millennial-turning mashup by your Matthews and Mayers. Music that could be heard without any bass, by the way.
When I was a kid, I could fall asleep listening to the RadioShack set because of my familiarity with it. Plus, they were unbreakable.
Apple iPod Mini retro with pink tones
I must have bought the first pink iPod nano as soon as I saw it. My 45-minute commute to college needed a new CD player in 2004, so I convinced my parents to buy me one. Although my friends were delighted, I was charmed by the Mini. Due to its four gigabytes of hard drive space, it felt like I had my own radio station in my pocket. Beyonce, Modest Mouse and The Killers were some of the artists I listened to. I used iTunes gift cards I received from strawberry scented lip balms to buy Love by Gwen Stefani. Angel, music and a baby were all there when he came out. Even in the Christian summer camp, where secular music was forbidden, the Mini accompanied me.
We live in a streaming world these days. We are consume music by streaming. What if streaming loses its dominance as the most well-known method of music consumption? Simply, I have no idea. However, I believe that in the next five or ten years, music technology will advance so rapidly that we wouldn’t even need to listen to artists.
We connect to computers. Like in computer games, we took our preferences and created new pieces that precisely matched what we already had in our collections. Even if some are experimenting with procedural music, we are not there yet, just like gaming. However, that seems to be the direction.
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