History of The Recording of Sound - A Detailed Timeline

Acoustic Era

1877

Thomas Edison, considered as today’s most significant American inventor, invented the pioneer machine that is capable of recording sound. Edison accomplished this at his Menlo Park Laboratory.

It was the month of July when Edison and his staff tried the initial experiment to record sound using an indenting stylus, a telephone speaker, a diaphragm, and paper that is coated with paraffin. The experiment commenced with Edison yelling into the speaker while the paper was pulled under the styles. When the paper was pulled back via the indenting stylus, a faint recording of Edison’s yelling was captured.

December of the same year, two gentlemen named John Kruesi and Charles Batchelor worked in Menlo Park Laboratory to continue the early tinfoil phonograph.  The tinfoil phonograph has been proven to be capable of both playing and recording. It was comprised of a tinfoil wrapped cylinder and a hand crank to turn the tube manually.

As a result, the funnel becomes the receiver of the sound, which is linked to a diaphragm, and on this diaphragm, a stylus is attached. When the crank is turned while the yelling happens in the funnel, the sound vibrates the diaphragm, thus moving the stylus. The stylus proceeds into pressing the sound waves into the tinfoil. The tinfoil is then eventually transferred to another diaphragm, where a stylus is attached via a subtle spring.

Based on the experiment, as the stylus was carried over to the tinfoil’s indents, the number of vibrations logged triggered the diaphragm to vibrate in the same way as the original words spoken or provided.

It was also further notated that for the sounds to be fully recognized, the crank needs to be turned at a certain speed and that only a fraction of the sound, which is one to two minutes can be recorded. It was also discovered that the tinfoil could only be used in recording a couple of times before it deteriorates and loses its captured recordings.

The next year, Edison further worked on using three more formats: the initial strip model, a cylinder, and a disc.

1878

Edison assembled a spring motor and a prototype disc phonograph. He got a British patent for this disc invention, but he is more confident with his earlier cylinder methodology. It was in the year 1913 when he finally transitioned from cylinders to flat discs to record sound.

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Graphophone

1885

The English patents that Thomas Edison obtained for his tinfoil phonographs expired. This opened a worldwide opportunity for all other inventors to make their version or improve on Edison’s talking machine invention.

1886

Volta Laboratory’s Alexander Graham Bell, Chichester Bell, and Charles Tainter acquired some patents for a graphaphone or a commercial talking machine. The graphaphone is based on the phonograph of Edison but modified where the tinfoil was no longer used. Instead, wax cylinders were incorporated, and the stylus is more of a cutting tool. Thanks to these modifications, the mechanism became more comfortable to use with the output playback clearer.

Edison was invited to join the trio, but he did not.

1888

Thomas Edison announced that during the year’s summer season that his phonograph is already finalized. The newest version comes in a wooden case and has an electric motor to power it. Adapting a wax cylinder like the graphophone, Edison also incorporated a stick to hold the tube. The diaphragm for the recording and playback were also incorporated into one.

The same year, Emile Berliner also demonstrated his talking machine, which he called the gramophone. His version is also hand-cranked, and he incorporated the use of a flat disc.

1889

Emile Berliner, together with Werner Suess, re-introduced their enhanced gramophone. The new version includes a huge horn that’s connected to the diaphragm. This was offset with an arm that moves smoothly across the disc. After a few years, further modification happened with this model, where a new hand crank was incorporated. This added feature utilizes two tiny wheels plus a cross belt, which produces an even and constant motion to the turntable.

During the same year, Oberlin Smith defined an electricity using technique to magnetize metal strips. According to him, the same technique can be applied to recording where like the telephone, sound waves can be converted to electrical current. With this methodology, the earlier stylus is eliminated from the picture, thus removing the unwelcome friction sounds.

Smith, for some reason, did not obtain a patent for this magnetic concept technique. It was a decade later that a patent was secured for this magnetic recording process.

This year paved the way for many firsts. The first coin-operated phonograph was made. Listeners would need a nickel to listen to the play of a single cylinder. San Francisco’s Palais Royal Saloon had one of these coin-operated machines, and in less than half a year, it generated over $1000.

1893

Berliner saw a business need and potential business growth in creating a process that could cheaply duplicate master sound recordings. So, he recorded on a zinc disc covered with a layer of fat. When acid is applied, the grooves imprinted in the fat film can be etched to the metal disc.  The metal disc then got electroplated in copper so a mold can be produced.

This is the mold that Berliner used to stamp his sound reproductions into 7-inch hard rubber discs. These discs were sold in a paper sleeve, and the song lyrics are also included so the listeners can sing along or make out portions of the song that are inaudible. During the marketing, it was proven that there is a discrepancy with the clarity of sound as the duplicates were not as clear as the master copies.

1896

The National Phonograph Company was established courtesy of Thomas Edison. Eldridge Johnson created a smooth, quiet spring motor. This is for the use of the Berliner Gramophone Company.

1897

A lot of Americans can readily afford their home talking machine. There were three significant companies: Columbia, Edison, and Victor, and these manufacturers had selected dealers who had to comply with the repair standards and market price. There were other smaller game players as well like Ediphone, Keenophone, Talkophone, and Zonophone.

1898

Valdemar Poulsen finally obtained the patent for the magnetic recording system. This system was a preview of a tape recorder. Now called the Valdemar Pousen system, this process uses a telephone transmitter microphone to alter the sound waves to electrical currents to produce local magnetization of the steel wire. The magnetic disparities harmonized the electrical currents’ variations making the option to playback possible. Additionally, a previous recording can be wiped away by recording a new one over it. The playback can be listened to via phone earphones.

1899

Edison introduced the Gem to the market. It is the most compact and cheapest phonograph during the time to contend with the falling prices. Each machine is worth $10 and can only play records contrary to his earlier invention, which came either with a built-in recording mechanism or an add-on.

During the same year, a super rudimentary version of the gramophone became available to the market, and it was called the Toy. This is way cheaper than the Gem as it only costs $3 each.

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1900

Thomas Lambert obtained the patent to use celluloid as a medium for recording. Celluloid was then one of the initial forms of plastic. It can be described as rigid but not 100% unbreakable, as declared by the Indestructible Record Company and Columbia. The use of celluloid allowed more frequencies to be captured and recorded.

1901

Two companies have concluded on the best on what is the best method of creating duplicates of original or master recordings. The National Phonograph Company, together with the Victor Talking Machine Company, declared that they had found the best method allowing mass production of sound copies possible. Eldridge Johnson utilized wax discs while Thomas Edison used the cylinders.

Although the Edison team spent more years on sound recording, Johnson made a massive improvement in recording sound. He established the perfect wax complex to record by melting down the wax of Edison’s cylinders.

Both Edison and Johnson used an electroplating methodology to create a metal negative form. This mold was then used to stamp out recording replicas to wax cylinders and discs.

1904

England is fully utilizing the use of celluloid to produce Neophone discs. The discs come in varying sizes, including one that has a diameter of 22 inches.

Pathe created discs that were pressed using shellac in Europe. Referred to as the Pathe discs boasted wider grooves and were played by using a special stylus. The stylus is sapphire and colored blue, and the playing group followed a pattern. It will start in the middle and will spiral outwards. Unfortunately, these discs were challenged with warping.

1906

The first jukebox style device was referred to as the Automatic Entertainer. John Gabel created this 5-ft tall machine, and the Automatic Machine and Tool Company produced it. This one comes with a magnetic coin detector, and a hand-wound spring motor operated it. When the motor is winded, the record and needle would both be changed simultaneously. It contains twenty-four 10-inch records that can be selected by turning the knob. The three sides of the machine were enclosed with glass, and it had a huge horn coming from the machine’s top.

Another machine was introduced then by Victor. It was the Victrola, and it looks like a cabinet that is thoroughly obscured, with the diameter consistently decreasing from the most massive end to the smallest one. It was also designed with an internal horn. The Victrola was so popular then that it became the standard description of any Talking Machine.

1907

Enrico Caruso’s recording of “On with Motley from I Pagliacci” marked the first recording to have sold a million copies. Caruso is an Italian opera singer, and his full range tenor was fully recordable. His music paved the way for the talking machines to be acknowledged and recognized in music stores.

1908

Thomas Edison advanced into a wax cylinder that is capable of plating twice the length of time. From the previous 2 minutes length, his cylinder tube invention can already play 4 minutes of recording. Referred to as the Amberol cylinders, these cylinders were still very delicate, and the people who purchased it had also to buy an adapter kit so their older versions of phonographs can work with it.

1912

Thomas Edison introduced another cylinder that has a plaster of Paris center and wrapped in celluloid. He called it the Blue Amberol, and its playback superiority was very remarkable. To play these newly released cylinders, Edison presented the most recent Amberola phonograph. This one had a lot of similarities with the Victrola.

1912

Thomas Edison introduced a disc playing phonograph called the Edison Diamond Disc Player. This new one is packed in many better features, including a smaller stylus paired with a “ground diamond styli,” a giant diaphragm, a turntable that is spring driver, and a floating weight.

The Diamond Disc Player is the ultimate player for his 10-inch discs that had a middle of a highly-forced mixture of lampblack, wood flour, hexamethylene, and phenol surface coated with condensate, which is a kind of varnish.

Condensite is easy to mold plastic, and unfortunately, the initial condensate discs were challenged by surface noise but were eventually improved after World War 1.  To control the volume, the Diamond Disc players came with a ball of fabric inserted into the horn so the sound can be softened and lowered.

The same year, Edison also introduced the Kinetophone, the first talking picture device. It can play large cylinders of up to 7 inches long. The Kinetophone was used in cinemas, but many movie watchers complained because it often is out of sync with the movie.

1914

There were 18 sound recording manufacturers in the US around this time, combining for at least $27 million in value.

1918

William Gaisber became instrumental in the preservation of war history when he recorded the unique sounds of gunshots, artillery explosions, and the rumble of war machines.

The number of US companies that record sound grew to 166 from a mere 18 in 1914.

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Electrical Era

1923

Harry Pfannestiehl and Henry Stroller teamed up to produce a device that allowed for the simultaneous playing of film and recorded sound. A pair of electric motors powered the two important parts of the device: the film projector and the record player. They recorded sounds onto large discs that have a diameter of 16 inches.

Also around this time, Lee De Forest produced the DeForest Phonofilm. It is a sound-on-film system that gathers and converts sound waves into electrical signals in the form of parallel lines. As the film gets projected on a screen, the electrical signals that were photographically recorded in the parallel lines get transformed back into the original sound waves. This technology allowed artists to produce and record musical numbers, opera singers, vaudeville acts, and even political speeches.

General Electric and Western Electric also started developing their own version of a sound-on-film system.

1925

Majority of the innovations around this time were focused on advances in telephony, especially the development of amplifiers, electrical filters, and microphones. Working for Western Electric, Joseph Maxfield and H. Harrison teamed up to develop a unique condenser for electric recording systems.

The condenser transforms sound waves into electricity. A vacuum tube amplifier then strengthens the electric current. Playing the disc calls for the needle to move along the disc’s tracks. A loudspeaker also serves to intensify the electric current. Columbia and Victor were the first companies that used this new recording system.

Maxfield and Harrison also introduced the Orthophonic, the world’s first phonograph designed to play electrically recorded recordings. This machine allowed new electrically recorded records to be played. At the time, playing such records on existing acoustic machines produced sounds that were too loud. The frequency range of the sound was also off.

The Orthophonic addressed these issues. It enjoyed the overwhelming support of people who listened to electrically-recorded recordings using the device.

The invention called for improvements in other areas. C.W. Rice and E.W. Kellogg worked to develop the electric loudspeaker. This allowed listeners to adjust the volume of their device. Victor phonographs began hitting the market. Some of these phonographs also have integrated RCA radios.

Brunswick produced the world’s first full-electric sound player also in this year. Gone are the hollow tonearm, diaphragm, and sound box of conventional sound players. In their stead are a solid moving arm, an amplifier, built-in loudspeakers, vacuum tubes, and an electric turntable.

1926

Warner Bros. and Western Electric partnered to form a separate company, Vitaphone. This company was the first to produce a sound-on-disc movie, Don Juan. The challenge of synchronizing film and sound in a very precise and accurate manner remains evident.

1927

Thomas Edison introduced the 12-inch record that played a full 42 minutes worth of sound recordings.

William Fox improved on the existing sound-on-film technology of the time and produced his own system, Movietone. This piece of technology is instrumental in recording and documenting Charles Lindbergh’s historic first solo transatlantic flight.

Vitaphone followed up on the success of Don Juan with its first-ever sound-on-disc media, The Jazz Singer. It featured synchronized speech, songs, and background music.

Coin-slot players get the fancy of the adoring public. It was the Automatic Music Instrument Company that developed the world’s first multiple record changer that operates automatically when people drop a coin. Other companies followed suit, knowing the significance of the technology to music lovers.

1929

Thomas Edison’s recorded sound business formally shuts down after sharing his passion for recorded sounds for more than 50 years.

Fox introduced an ingenious sound-on-film processing technology developed by Grandeur Films. The system used a wide screen.

1930

The electrical recording process has gone mainstream, with the majority of recording companies now adopting the new technology.

Sound-on-film technology is also becoming the go-to technology for major film production outfits. Unfortunately, the cost of this new technology meant the demise of small film companies as they cannot compete with big-budget names.

1931

A new system gets patented by Blumlein. The new technology allows for the more effective cutting of stereo records. The system employs a combination of vertical and lateral cuts, precisely made in the same groove. Blumlein and Keller further improved on the system by producing a technology that allows the system to cut the record at 45 degrees. The two sides of the V-shape cut allowed for the inscription of two different sound channels. This gave birth to stereo sound with exceptionally high fidelity.

Efforts are being made to produce a three-way speaker that can produce three different operating frequencies: high, middle, and low. Unfortunately, this system didn’t get the well-rounded development it needed until about the 60s.

Inspired by Edison’s 42-minute long-playing record, Victor and Bell Labs began developing their own LPs

1932

Bell Labs took the unique 45/45 stereo record groove-cutting technology of Blumlein and Keller and further improved on it.

1934

Ordinary homes can now enjoy their favorite recordings. All they need is the loudspeaker and the amplifier of their ordinary radio and RCA Victor’s first portable electrical turntable, the Duo, Jr. this small device can be easily plugged into an ordinary radio and the family can enjoy wonderful music. Columbia also produced a similar portable player, the Radiograph, and sold it for $55. Families can have the Duo, Jr. for only $16.50.

1936

More and more people are now looking for coin-operated record players that are able to play multiple records. These contraptions are favored for their amplifiers and phenomenal bass.

These devices are especially popular in the Southern US, where live entertainment can only be had in a few select watering holes. The establishments that used these coin-operated players were called Juke joints and the machines that provided the entertainment were aptly called Juke boxes. This led to the increase in production of Juke box-playable records, accounting for more than 50% of all record sales.

1937

Cleveland-based Brush Development Company introduced the Soundmirror. This is a revolutionary technology that uses a magnet to record audio onto steel tape. Not to be outdone, Bell Labs also developed and introduced its own steel tape-using magnetic recorder, the Mirrorphone. The main advantage of this technology is that you can put longer audio material in each tape. The downside is that the sound produced is not as clear as what disc recordings can produce.

1938

The three largest record companies in the US are RCA Victor, Columbia ARC, and Decca. What sets these companies from other companies is that they are part of larger organizations. The umbrella organization to which these companies respectively belong also make different electrical components.

1939

Juke boxes remain the undisputed king of public, coin-operated entertainment systems. In this year alone, companies had to produce about 13 million juke box-playable discs.

The third decade of the 20th century also saw improvements in radio recordings in the form of transcripts. A company would record a program, the transcript of which will then be sent to different radio stations all over the country. These radio stations can air the same program simultaneously, regardless of location. This innovation saw the development of advertising for the radio. Marketing and advertising companies can now record their advertisements for airing on radio stations.

Despite the advances in sound recording technology, RCA Victor still sold the Victrola 0-10. This is a compact, spring-wound, acoustic phonograph that people can buy for only $9.95.

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Ampex

1940

This year saw the triumph of commercialism. Airing of commercially-recorded music is now possible without radio stations having to fear about paying royalties to record companies or suffering any legal backlash.

Record companies worked together to bring music entertainment to the battered frontliners of World War II. These companies recorded different types of sounds and music in 16-inch recording discs. They called these discs as the V discs.

1941

Sound recording took on a very different role on the battle grounds of World War II. Recording audio is now crucial for code-breaking and for recording sensitive information exchanges. These can include the recording of telephonic information from spies and intercepted communications from the enemy. The challenging circumstances surrounding warfare led to the development of wire recorders. These are more durable than conventional sound recorders at the time.

1948

Ampex developed and marketed a professional tape recorder that uses magnetic technology. The American Broadcasting Company was the first organization to use this technology.

The record disc gets an upgrade from Columbia. It’s now made of vinyl, rotates 33 1/3 times per minute, and has microgroove and long-playing characteristics.

RCA followed in the footsteps of Columbia, introducing their own long-playing, vinyl record disc that runs at 45 RPM. They added a portable plastic player to play their vinyl LP records.

Bell Labs took a different route. The company focused on the development of smaller record players by inventing the transistor. This invention effectively replaced conventional vacuum tubes in radios, tape recorders, and record players.

1950

People can now choose from 4 different speeds of record playing: 16 RPM, 33 1/3 RPM, 45 RPM, and 78 RPM.

1953

Ordinary homes can now enjoy stereo sound because of the development of prerecorded stereo tapes that utilized magnetic technology.

1957

The Westrex system of stereo discs becomes the American standard after careful deliberation by the Record Industry Association of America.

Americans began enjoying stereophonic disc records.

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Compactcassette

1960

Vinyl records continue to dominate the market. However, 78 RPM Shellac records are still available.

Car owners can now enjoy music in their vehicles installed with a 4-track tape deck. Companies have begun producing 4-track tape cartridges that feature continuous-looping record tape.

1961

People can now purchase compact transistor record players. Sony and Panasonic were the undisputed leaders in this emerging market because of the portability, affordability, and compact design of their players.

1963

Philips introduced a new form of recording storage – the compact cassette tape. Unfortunately, it would take 5 more years before people began buying into the idea. It was the 8-track tape cartridge that people saw as more attractive.

1964

Norelco introduced the Carry Corder, the first compact and portable cassette tape player in the US.

1966

Motorola manufactured the 9-track stereo tape cartridge designed by Lear Jet. The cartridge featured a continuous looping tape. Ford offered the product as an option in their luxury car line. Ordinary consumers got to enjoy pre-recorded eight track tapes from RCA.

1968

Cassette tapes are now the craze, with no less than 85 companies producing players for these small, convenient, and long playing devices. The tapes allowed virtually anyone to record sound. The main issue is that the playback quality is still mediocre compared to disc records.

1971

The grainy noise of the cassette tape was answered by the all-new Ray Dolby creation. The new system reduced the annoying background noise of conventional cassettes.

1977

People can now purchase prerecorded music, both on discs and on cassette tapes.

1979

Walkman meets the world. This portable cassette player by Sony revolutionized the way people enjoy music on the go. The player came with headphones and relied on battery power. Walkman paved the way for other portable and compact cassette players to enter the mainstream.

Digital Era

Digital sound experimentation began a few decades prior to the advent of the modern digital era. Many consider Samuel Morse to be the brains behind the digital progress. His Morse Code paved the way for the use of electrical circuits in the transmission of coded messages. Western Electric’s P.M. Rainey got a patent for his Pulse Coded Modulation or PCM in 1926. A.H. Jeeves improved on this system in 1937. Code generation and transmission became more frantic and more in-depth during the Second World War. The invention of the integrated circuit in 1959 led to the production of semiconductors that contained hundreds of transmitters. Bell Telephone operationalized the very first transmitting system that utilized the PCM technology in 1962. Sony, Mitsubishi, and Matsushita also contributed to the ongoing development of PCM processors. These new technologies produced digital codes from sound waves. Philips began a series of experiments in 1964 in an effort to produce a laser disc.

1979

Efforts are being made to produce the very first compact disc. Philips and Sony combined their technical know-how to produce an efficient system of encoding or encrypting digital sound. This was possible because of Philips’ work on a playback system that uses digital audio discs.

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1981

The world finally meets the compact disc, or CD. A small disc serves as a medium for recorded sound. A laser beam in the CD player reads the binary code encrypted into the disc. The resulting playback is one that has no unnecessary surface sound. The disc was also immune to wear from playback. The compact disc can store 75 minutes’ worth of music and sound. Listeners also have the ability to choose the song or sound they want to play.

JVC also developed its own digital sound recording technology. The company called the 10-inch disc system as the Audio High Disc. However, standardization organizations favored the 5-inch system of Philips and Sony.

1982

The standard 5-inch compact disc is now commercially available.

1983

Robert Moog and Ray Kurzweil answered every musician’s dream by creating a synthesizer that allows musicians and anybody else to recreate electronically almost any sound. Unfortunately, the innovation was so expensive. Japanese companies began producing more affordable models, such as the Yamaha DX7. The synthesizer costed $2,000 at the time. It was still less expensive than other brands.

1988

The cassette tape continues to dominate the market, despite the rising popularity of the CD. Bringing up the rear are vinyl records.

1990

This year marked the entry of the Digital Audio Tape or DAT by Sony.

It also marked the entry of the Data Discman. This is a small device that sits comfortably in the palm of one’s hand. It can play both images and music to provide a different kind of personal entertainment.

The 1990s saw the emergence of compact discs and CD players as the preferred media and devices for recording and playing of recorded sound. These technologies are well-regarded for their superior performance over outdated systems.

1991

This year marked the invention of the Alesis Digital Audio Tape or the ADAT. It is a magnetic tape format that utilizes a slightly modified and improved version of the VHS videocassette. This modification is S-VHS. Similarly, ADAT encodes signals into the S-VHS. In general, ADAT recorders were a bit limited of up to 8 tracks. That limit could be stretched as up to 16 writers, and recorders are daisy-chained.

That same year, Sound Tools progressed into Pro Tools, the first real digital audio workstation or DAW. Pro Tools has brought the whole recording procedure in PCs. To this day, DAWs are used to tailor recorded tracks as another clip-view option with a visual production of the audio one is planning to create.

1994

MP3 is a coding format that was presented as the coding standard this year.

1995

The Digital Versatile Disc, popularly known as DVD, was developed. It is sometimes called the Digital Video Disc. It is a digital optical disc storage, which keeps digital data. In general, DVDs are better at storing higher capacity than Compact Discs (CDs).

1997

The first MP3 player was introduced to the world, the MPMan F10. This MP3 player was developed by SaeHan Information Systems, a South Korean company. This same year, the first car audio MP3 player was also born, the MP32Go Player.

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2001

Steve Jobs introduced iTunes to the world. iTunes is Apple’s music software, which was initially born as a humble music player. It later became a multimedia manager to manage your audio and media content, make your playlists, and synchronize this media to your handheld devices.

In October 2001, Steve Jobs introduced the world’s first iPod. This device was thought to be a multipurpose pocket computer. It became famous as a lineage of portable multimedia players. Generations later, it evolved into having different applications for video and audio files.

2003

Around April 2003, Apple released its digital media store, the iTunes Store. It is a software-based store that is a digital marketplace for audio files and other music. It is a digital catalog that shows a musical piece from the forefront of record labels worldwide. It is available on almost all Apple devices by the time of its release.

2004

Following its release of the iTunes Store, Apple then released their very own GarageBand. This software is a line of DAWs that is available for a variety of Apple devices. This digital audio workstation, specifically for Apple users, enables them to create podcasts and music on their own devices.

The Era of Digital Music Distribution

2007

Amazon released its digital streaming service exclusive for music. It combines both subscription-based and a-la-carte payment methods. This way, users can stream or download songs on their computers.

2008

Spotify is currently the world’s largest online music streaming platform. It was first launched in Sweden and has taken the world since then. They lead the music industry’s subscription-based digital music streaming. This application is available on most handheld devices and computers. It also allows listeners to stream, download, and create playlists from their music of choice.

2015

Apple adapted to the world’s demand on subscription-based music and launched its own application, the Apple Music. This application has been operating in more than 100 countries and has similarities to Spotify in terms of streaming and downloading digital music.

YouTube Music is an application by YouTube that allows users to explore more than 30 million musical tracks in their database. Unlike Spotify and Apple Music, YouTube Music has concert footage you can enjoy on.

Tidal, rebranded from its predecessor company Aspiro, is noted to be the first music streaming service formed by artists. Jay-Z acquired it from a Norwegian/Swedish company.