May 2010 Archives

The Outlook

Facebook and Spotify Get in Bed

My best friend Tim has an encyclopaedic knowledge of music. Growing up, Tim was a constant source of compilations, taped from vinyl, introducing me to most of the music that defined my teenage years. Much of it still ranks at the very top of my favourite music list today. As we got older, Tim graduated from tape to MiniDisc, and from MiniDisc to memory stick, allowing his musical tastes to influence an entire peer group through 'Birthday Specials', 'German Progrock Samplers' and 'Psychedelic Essentials'.

Now I reckon most of us have a Tim in our peer group, or perhaps you recognise yourself as the Tim of your group, so it's no surprise that the significance of last month's Spotify announcement of greater Facebook integration is not lost on Tim. Put simply, this integration reduces the process of making a compilation for a friend down to one step only: the preparation of the playlist. By sharing just that information via Facebook, other registered Spotify users can instantly stream music from the cloud. Now Tim can push out his latest compilation to all his friends simultaneously, and without doing anything that could be deemed to infringe copyright.

But Tim can go one step further and broadcast his playlists via his own radio station. Playdio?--?a combination of playlist and radio?--?allows him to add his own spoken links within his playlist, so he can for example explain why Kraftwerk really are the greatest band of all time, and share via Spotify and Facebook. Welcome to Radio Tim

Dark Skies for Quality

Low Bitrates - Quality in the Cloud?

Whilst these are promising and exciting developments, there are significant problems that are yet to be addressed by the music industry.

Firstly, quality. So far, streaming services are limited to compressed, lossy MP3. By now even Tim has figured out that his friends are happier when he gives them full quality compilations so he may hold off on Spotify and Playdio for the moment.

Linn's own download site shows that when you offer people a choice of quality?--?MP3, CD and Studio Master in our case?--?over 80% choose the best quality available. So what's stopping mainstream cloud services going CD quality or higher? The standard argument they give against doing this is the cost of infrastructure for higher quality. Let's come back to this in a moment.

No Silver Lining for Artists

Information is Beautiful - How Much do Music Artists Earn Online

Second problem?--?how do artists make enough money to survive in the "music-in-the-cloud" view of the world? This graphic illustration of the problemis both amusing and startling. As the terrifyingly large pink circles show, no-one has yet come up with a sustainable business model that doesn't involve selling physical media. Putting it mildly, streaming royalties from Spotify, iTunes and their like aren't exactly a source of riches for artists. Tim may be oblivious to this problem today, but he will care deeply when sources of new music dry up. Spotify is part owned by the major record labels, creating a real danger that indie labels will be shut out in the event that significant revenues are generated.

What's the Forecast?

Is music moving to the cloud? With the recent launch of Spotify in the Netherlands and the US launch planned for later this year, something has to change in order for cloud services to become more than just cool technology for wannabe Tims, and cheap or free music for the rest of us. In my opinion the obvious solution is to raise both quality and prices to pay for the increased infrastructure, leaving enough money for artists to survive and continue to create new music.