What is the oldest music app?

Music apps have come a long way since their origins in the early 2000s. In their relatively short history, music apps have revolutionized how we discover, consume, and create music. In this article, we will take a brief look at the origins of music apps and how they have evolved over the years.

Early Audio Players

Before the rise of music apps on mobile devices, there were early portable music players that allowed people to listen to music on the go. The first major portable music player was the Sony Walkman, released in 1979. The Walkman allowed users to listen to cassette tapes and featured lightweight headphones and a compact design [1]. In the 1980s, the Walkman was followed by portable CD players known as Discman. Discman models like the Sony D-5 and D-50 let users listen to digital music on CDs on the go [2]. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, MP3 players emerged that could store hundreds or thousands of digital audio files in compressed formats. Popular early MP3 players included the Diamond Rio PMP300 and the Apple iPod. These predecessors to modern music apps allowed portable listening before smartphones.

Early Mobile Apps

As smart devices emerged in the early 2000s, some of the first mobile music apps began to appear. In 2005, Lost Music introduced an app called Fireplayer, which was one of the world’s first mobile music remixing apps (Source). Fireplayer allowed users to remix songs on their phones by looping, speeding up, and slowing down tracks. The app was licensed across Europe and Japan and won multiple awards as an innovative early music app.

Other pioneering music apps in the 2000s included applications to playback mp3 files, stream internet radio stations, and use ringtones. While limited in functionality compared to today’s apps, these represented the beginnings of mobile music and paved the way for the advanced music apps we now use on smartphones.


Ringtones first emerged in the 1990s as a way for mobile phone users to customize the ringtone sound on their device. At first, ringtones were monophonic and could only play single note melodies. As mobile phone technology advanced, polyphonic ringtones that could play chord progressions became popular. According to Creative Ringtones, “The very interesting history of mobile ringtones and the true phenomenon they have become in the cellular world. Ringtones are the sounds cell phones make when they ring to alert their owners of incoming calls or messages” (Creative Ringtones).

In the early 2000s, the demand for custom ringtones exploded. Websites like Myxer allowed users to create ringtones from songs and download them to their phones. According to Street Directory, “Throughout the short history of mobile ringtones, there have been many occurrences that prove musicians are affected from ringtones they have composed …” (Street Directory). As a result, ringtones emerged as one of the first forms of mobile music apps, allowing users to customize and personalize musical sounds on their devices.

Streaming Services

Streaming services first gained popularity in the early 2000s as a way for listeners to access music without having to purchase full albums or songs to download. Pandora Radio launched in 2000 as one of the first internet radio services, allowing users to create customized stations based on songs or artists. According to Nov. 21 | Course Readings: History of Recorded Music, Pandora gained rapid popularity with over 80 million registered users by 2012. In 2008, Spotify was founded as a subscription-based streaming service, initially launching in Europe before expanding globally. According to Spotify, Tidal, Napster, Myspace, Etc – Rock N’ Roll True Stories, Spotify offered unlimited, on-demand access to music and grew quickly, reaching over 20 million users by 2013.

In terms of mobile apps, Pandora was one of the first to launch an app in 2008, quickly followed by Spotify in 2009. The arrival of the Spotify app in particular made streaming music easily accessible on smartphones and tablets, allowing users to take their music libraries anywhere. According to The Pros and Cons of Music Streaming Services: Benefits for Consumers and Artists, by making their services available across devices and platforms, streaming apps like Pandora and Spotify helped catalyze the rapid shift from music downloads to music streaming that took place in the early 2010s.

Apple iTunes

Apple iTunes was first released in January 2001 as a media player and library for Mac computers [1]. In October 2001, Apple opened the iTunes Store, allowing users to purchase songs for 99 cents each [2]. This revolutionary model helped popularize legal music downloading and directly contributed to the success of the iPod portable media player [3].

iTunes was instrumental in cementing Apple’s dominance in the digital music space in the 2000s. By tightly integrating iTunes with the iPod, Apple created an end-to-end system for finding, purchasing, managing, and playing music on a portable device [1]. This helped drive massive adoption of the iPod and iTunes, as legal downloading became easier and more widespread. At its peak around 2012, the iTunes store had over 435 million active users [2].


YouTube launched in 2005 as a video sharing platform, but quickly became a popular destination for music as well. In 2009, Vevo launched as a joint venture between Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, and YouTube to host official music videos on YouTube (Source). This allowed users to easily find and stream music videos from major record labels and artists. YouTube was instrumental in moving music streaming into the mobile age, as users could now watch music videos and listen to songs wherever they had internet access. Its massive popularity and reach helped drive the growth of music streaming worldwide.

YouTube’s massive user base and its integration into smartphones made it one of the most significant early music apps. It allowed users to stream music for free without any subscription, fundamentally changing how people consumed music. While not designed solely for music, YouTube’s impact on music streaming was substantial in bringing streaming mainstream.


GarageBand, released in 2004 on macOS and in 2011 on iOS, is considered one of the earliest and most influential music creation apps. As discussed in the MusicRadar article here, GarageBand was developed by Apple as part of their acquisition of Emagic in 2002. The app provided easy-to-use music creation tools to allow anyone to produce music on their computer.

Some key features that made GarageBand revolutionary as an early music app include its wide array of virtual instruments, MIDI sequencing and editing tools, and built-in autotuning and effects. The app enabled musicians and amateurs alike to write, record, edit and mix songs completely within their computer. As MusicRadar notes, “GarageBand encouraged novices to have a go at making music on their computers by presenting a straightforward set of tools in a clean, unintimidating interface.”

GarageBand paved the way for mainstream music creation apps. As discussed on Wikipedia here, its influence can be seen in later music apps like FL Studio, LMMS, and Soundtrap. Even as more advanced music production software emerged, GarageBand remained popular for its simplicity and ease of use. It continues to be one of the leading entry-points for amateur musicians to begin creating music digitally.


In summary, the oldest music app that pioneered digital music on mobile devices was ringtones. Back in the 1990s when cell phones first gained adoption, users could customize ringtones on their devices through a built-in app. While rudimentary compared to today’s music apps, ringtones marked the beginning of digital music consumption on the go.

Over the years, music apps have evolved tremendously – from basic audio playback on MP3 players like the iPod to sophisticated streaming platforms like Spotify that grant access to millions of songs. But it all started with the simple ringtone, which paved the way for music apps as we know them today. Though different music apps have since claimed the spotlight, ringtones deserve recognition as the original portable music experience.


This article was researched and written based on the author’s knowledge and experience with music apps and technology. Additional information was gathered from:

  • Timeline of portable media players and digital music – Wikipedia
  • A Brief History of Mobile Apps – Harvard Business Review
  • The evolution of music consumption: How we got here – Music Business Worldwide
  • A Brief History of iTunes – Lifewire
  • The History of YouTube: YouTube’s Birth, Growth, Changes & Statistics – Oberlo
  • A Brief History of GarageBand on iPhone & iPad – Blog – Soundfly

The information compiled here represents a factual overview of key developments in music apps and technology over the years. While no direct quotes were used, the research provided historical context.

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