There’s a relatively new radio station in town – Spotify, the UK-‐based streamer who’s aiming to compete with Pandora and others for the ears of the world, at home and on mobile devices.
I’ve been a user for about a year, and I like them. They have their flaws, but there are more upsides than down. A multi-‐tiered pricing structure is available. There’s a free version, and premium levels allow you to listen on your mobile. They’ve grown by a third in the past year to about 15 million users, and now you can use it on your Kindle Fire.
I no longer listen to “music” on broadcast radio owned by mega consolidators. Radio for me has been reduced to an ever-‐shrinking outpost for a few remaining extraordinarily talented DJ’s who are still allowed to practice their art of verbal gymnastics without corporate suits muzzling them. Mike Danger in Rochester, NY comes to mind. Dude has skills.
Many artists are uneasy about music-‐streaming services, largely due to their unsubstantiated fear that companies like Spotify and Pandora detract from already declining music revenues. It’s curious to me why they don’t understand that more exposure would result in more sales.
The Black Keys El Camino LP is conspicuously absent on the streaming services. Coldplay’s album Mylo Xyloto was released for purchase only online. There are numerous new examples of this.
The bottom line: these channels of digital distribution, including cloud giants Apple, Amazon and Google, have basically rendered traditional record companies extinct.
Record stores exist primarily for classic vinyl and CD’s these days, but even that is changing. A buyer at a San Francisco store I spoke with recently told me, “You better call and let me know what you have before you shlep 10,000 discs in here; we are really buying only novelty and collectible stuff these days…”
The ubiquitousness of the CD has rendered it almost valueless. If you were waiting to cash in your collection, you missed your payday by about 3 years.
I wandered through a Barnes and Noble the other day, and, just for a laugh, took a look at the CD racks. 18 dollars? Fail. I could buy an mp3/mp4 for half that. I could go home and download it for free from any number of rogue sites. We have been given unlimited options to possess music. The genie is out of the bottle.
The customer has wrestled control from the music industry, and really from the bands themselves. The only guaranteed payday for bands nowadays is touring and merchandising. Record companies blew it, post ‐ Napster, in the most spectacular way imaginable. They took their customers to court instead of figuring out how to get them the songs they craved at a price point they were willing to pay. They didn’t cultivate a relationship with the end-user. I blame them 100% for the mess they created.
What I think has happened is that we the people have decided that music may now be part of the commons. It has become a shared commodity, not a transaction between label and consumer. Music just isn’t worth what it used to be. Considering that it takes humans real sweat and toil to create it, this crisis in the business is akin to a financial fugue state.
My relationship with Pandora and Spotify, with Google Music and iTunes, is a varied one. Some stuff I buy; It’s my karmic payback for the trillions of songs I got gratis from Napster.
Many times I will buy bargain CD’s at San Francisco’s venerable mecca Amoeba Music and complete the holes in my collection by burning them, then allowing Google to send ‘em to the cloud.
So radio is dying, with no signs of getting off the gurney. This industry breaks nothing but hearts these days. Streaming services are the radio of the here and now, but in these instances we don’t own the music we are consuming. We are renting it, attaching a tag to a file that floats in the cloud. It’s largely void of artwork, liner notes or much else.
The new ways to get and keep music are virtually unlimited. The old models require too much space (the CD rack), too many hideous insulting commercials and out-‐of town prerecorded DJ’s (the radio), or too much money (Barnes and Noble).
Apple is currently operating what I love to call one of the world’s biggest radio stations in North Carolina. Google has massive server farms spread out across the country. The cloud is a BIG deal-‐ these “radio stations” consume 1% of Earth’s electricity everyday.
Bye bye, old school.
These server farms are storing and sharing our entertainment media-‐ movies and videos…and our music.
By the way, MySpace is not only not dead, it’s experiencing a remarkable resurgence. Take a look, if you haven’t been there in a while.
The rules are being rewritten, and the future of the song is unknown-‐ especially the question of its monetary value.
I’m knee-‐deep (as not only a consumer, but as a university instructor) in the study of the evolution of music, but I feel a need to maintain complete ownership to one particular medium that will always be priceless to me-‐ the vinyl record.
This week, pulling out a ragged copy of XTC’s English Settlement, enjoying the familiar liner notes, pictures, pops and clicks, was pure bliss.
I cannot wait until I get my jukebox. The parties at my house will be jumpin’ off!