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The Future of Music: A Reading List

A crash course in the interplay between music and innovation

2 min read

An iPhone playing music, with Apple earphones plugged in, lying on sheet paper.
Image credit: FirmBee & Alenat
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Over the last century, the way we listen to music has undergone countless revolutions. From concert halls and sheet music, to radio and LPs, to television and CDs, to the internet and MP3s, to smartphones and streaming, the only constant has been change.

Or has it? Pop songs have remained more or less the same length and format throughout that time, and a time traveler from the 1800s would easily recognize the concert-going experience of today. An album is still an album, and the major scale is still the major scale (except outside of the Western world, of course).

In short, there are many different perspectives on the future of music. To help you come to grips with the many viewpoints on how listening will change over the coming decades, we’ve pulled together some of the best writing on the subject.


“Of all noises, I think music is the least disagreeable.”

–Samuel Johnson, attributed in The Tickler magazine, 1818


The Hit Single

When talking about the future of music, it’s impossible to avoid arguments that the sky is continuously falling as a result of piracy, streaming, or the latest internet technology. In this excellent piece for The New York Times, How We Get To Next‘s very own Steven Johnson digs up some real data and finds that things aren’t anywhere near as bad as we’ve been led to believe. “Somehow,” he writes, “the turbulence of the last 15 years seems to have created an economy in which more people than ever are writing and performing songs for a living.”

For balance, here’s the Future of Music Coalition, which is quoted in the piece, taking issue with some of the details. “If you want to know how musicians are faring,” the collective writes, “you have to ask musicians. You’ll get different answers from different musicians, and they’ll all be correct in terms of their own experiences. But your overall understanding will better reflect the complexity of the landscape.”


Album Tracks

Streaming, playlists, and other technologies have revolutionized modern music listening, as have new approaches to celebrity and fame:


Deep Cuts

Here’s the back catalogue–a collection of reads on specific topics related to the future of music technology, art, and culture from a variety of viewpoints:


Liner Notes

Alright, perhaps you prefer a more physical experience–like pulling a record out of its sleeve and placing it on a turntable. Here’s a collection of physical books addressing different aspects of music’s future and recent past:

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How We Get To Next was a magazine that explored the future of science, technology, and culture from 2014 to 2019. This article is part of our Fast Forward section, which examines the relationship between music and innovation. Click the logo to read more.