Friday, 21 October 2011

10 ideas for the future of digital music

A few days back Bobby Owsinksi, musician and author of the book Music 3.0 - A Survival Guide for Making Music in the Internet Age, posted a series of ideas regarding the future of digital music. These ideas came from some slides prepared by the J. Walter Thompson ad agency (see the slides below):

Some of the major claims in the original slides have been summarised by Owsinski:

1. Access Over Ownership: The tide has turned on subscription music and we will all soon prefer to stream our music from a subscription service rather than buy it and download it.
2. Capturing Over Collecting: Instead of collecting records, CDs and digital downloads of our favorite music as we did in the past, we'll now capture where we can find the music online instead.
3. The Celestial Jukebox Is Here: Services like Spotify and MOG have captured our musical imaginations thanks to instant access to millions of songs and a new way to discover new music.
4. The Battle Of Personalized Radio: We're at a tipping point of how we consume music, especially via the radio. Personalization of what we listen to is the key to the future of music consumption.
5. The MP3 Player- RIP: With the massive shift to streaming subscription music, the days of the MP3 player are numbered.
6. Coming Soon To A Device Near You: Internet music access will soon be commonplace in the car and home entertainment gear.
7. Sharing Your Playlists Will Reach A Tipping Point: While personalization from a service like Pandora is getting better, it still can't beat what a human can come up with. Soon all companies will make available our playlists so that we can see what our friends are listening to.
8. The Facebook Effect: Listeners connected via Facebook have initially been found to be a lot more engaged, therefore Facebook can actually amplify the effects and popularity of a song or artist, becoming a new avenue for breaking an artist or for promo.
9. They'll Be A New Set Of Influencers: Bloggers have held sway over the popularity of an artist or blog until now, but that influence will be decreased thanks to a new set of music experts, thanks in part to Google's new "Magnifier."
10. Aggregators Help Music Discovery: New aggregator services like or will collect data from around the web to help consumers discover what's new.
Most of these points I can agree with but there are a couple of issues that could do with being further clarified or reconsidered. In a series of Generator events I've attended over the last couple of years, the issue of paying for access to music rather than paying to own music (CD, mp3, etc) has been well covered by prominent figures in the business of providing such services.  

My gripe with the first point is mainly with the sweeping claim that "we will all soon prefer to stream our music from a subscription service rather than buy it and download it" - there will always be a market for purchases or downloads (ie ownership). Streaming services like Spotify and We7 are great at what they do but they are inevitably incomplete and frequently disappointing when you can't access the content you want. 

There are several instances where ownership is preferable to access:
  •  If you want to make a home video of your holidays for personal consumption featuring some background music that reminds you of that trip, then naturally, a streaming service is wholly inadequate. It's not like you can drop a live stream into your video editing software.
  • If you remotely interested in making digital music or performing digital music (DJ, VJ, etc) then you will need to own the music you play. It's not so easy to pitch up or down a streaming track, or beat match a stream for cross-fading.
  • Streaming content is great in areas of universal wifi and fast-paced mobile data networks, but glitches in the network or coverage black spots can be frustrating. The next generation of 4G, Wimax, LTE, etc networks are a while off yet. Even when they do arrive, they need to be competitively priced or streaming whilst being mobile will struggle to replace tracks stored on the portable device.  This issues feeds directly into the seventh point too.
The final two points suggest that sites like the HypeM and aggregation services will replace the influence of bloggers. The problem with this assertion is that the HypeM is a service that aggregates what music bloggers are talking about - without the bloggers there will be no aggregation, unless the service morphs into something else entirely.