As a student, of the order of 12 years ago, I received a 256mb flash mp3 player from my brother. You could fit a few ripped albums on there, but it wasn't worth ripping all my cds to use for that; rather what drove me to mp3ise my album collection was the desire to randomise my tracks and make compilations easier to make.
So it ended up being a pack-horse to listen to freely-downloaded tracks from myspace and record label websites. It seems to have been the way back then that a couple of songs would be downloadable here and there, so I remember having a few Elliot Smith songs, a couple of songs by The Dwarves, an Anaal Nathrakh ditty, some American guitar indie that I've forgotten the names of... individual songs that were listened to probably more than they deserved (at some point I upgraded this to a portable cd player, that I got from argos. It didn't have jog correction so I had to walk with an odd gait and take care over curbs).
What I want to talk about is streaming services; moving through the growth and decay of last.fm and soundcloud, to a situation where I've ended up uploading everything to google music and now just listen to that. Which is like having the original, massive mp3 player, but I have to worry about bandwidth charges.
Pandora came first for me, in terms of being able to tune a radio station to your own tastes, and thereby coming up with unexpected recommendations. I made a station called 'small fingers', that played tracks along the lines of Radiohead's 'treefingers' and John Martin's 'small hours', and fell in love with a Brian Eno track called 'Thursday afternoon'. But they cancelled it in the UK.
Since Peel died, Last.fm has provided me with more reasons to part with cash than any other single institution (possibly excluding acts associated with Ephel Duath and Gorky's Zygotic Mynci). Here's how:
I put 'digital hardcore' in as a tag, and drumcorps came up, who became the new best thing ever, and who I eventually went to an all-nighter in order to see live.
I investigated drumcorps, bought the album 'grist', and heard his remix of Genghis Tron's 'relief'.
I (eventually) bought all three Genghis Tron albums and saw them live on their last tour.
Grist was released through Ad Noiseam, and by listening through a couple of label samplers, I came across Igorr.
I (eventually) bought all four Igorr albums, as well as records by side projects Whourkr and Oxxo Xoox.
I noticed Drumcorps remixes on two remix albums, and bought both AND the works they were remixes of (52 Commercial Road, and Obsidian Kingdom), as well as picking up an ambient album by drumcorps AKA Aaron Spectre. All this from that one link; what would have happened without it?
Another time, I started a 'post-prog' tag radio, and found a track by Kayo Dot that floored me - a 15 minute post-neo-classical epic that ended with the most brutal blastbeat I can recall (or so I inaccurately remember the experience). I've since picked up 4 of their records.
Fall of Efrafa, The Lovely Eggs, Venetian Snares, and probably loads more I've forgotten about have come up just on recommended radio and been accrued. But last.fm doesn't feel right anymore; now it seems to use dodgy youtube videos of varying quality uploaded by anyone, instead of the accurate library it once had.
I got into soundcloud for completely different reasons; it seemed great for keeping up with new tracks, and dumping my own rough mixes, demos, and other unfinished works that would never see a proper release. It started to fulfil the function of that original little MP3 player, of a steady stream of taster tracks from artists I like.
But then something happened to it; it seemed to become an extension of a social networking site, and users (um, friends) began to re-post other stuff from bands I don't necessarily like. So by including friends' shares in the same stream as artists, with no option to keep them separate, it has completely broken what was once a potentially beatiful website.
So I've found myself listening to all my music streamed from google music, which seems like a waste of bandwidth, and doesn't help me find new things.
And more recently, I've just been playing things straight from bandcamp, because it's so lovely, helps me keep up with new releases, and good for queueing up wants. Also it's got enough of a recommendation engine under the surface to keep new unexpected things popping up, by linking you to fans with similar tastes, and artist-curated recommendations.
No conclusion, just a current endpoint.