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Thursday
Feb282013

Music, The Distributed Economy

I am an Rdio premium subscriber (switched from Spotify recently), I also use SoundCloud a lot and… I still have to buy music from iTunes. It’s not that I like to own stuff but just sometimes it’s the only way to listen to what I want, like the recent release of Ludovico Einaudi“In a Time Lapse” (which I highly recommend by the way).

Yes, “In a Time Lapse” is available on Spotify, still there is a lot of stuff which is not on Spotify but, for example, on SoundCloud. But that makes me think that there is some cool music which doesn’t hit SoundCloud and so on…

I think we all have to agree that music streaming services like Spotify, DeezerMOG or Rdio can’t solve the problem of music availability. Even more — it’s just plain impossible for them to do that.

Actually, the problem is even worse — if one uses Spotify and their friend is hooked up on Rdio then there’s no sane way for them to share music between each other. It’s a vendor lock-in!

Let’s imagine a world where we have no such problems at all — let’s call it “distributed music”.

Music Distribution Protocol

Centralized systems are always wrong and ineffective, rephrasing that, I think, there will be no music streaming service capable to provide users with sufficient amount of music. Ever. Period.

For “distributed music” to happen we need to have a distributed system instead. Let all interested parties stream music and use for that some kind of a standardized protocol — let’s call it music distribution protocolfor now. Yes, artists and labels should stream music to you directly not through Spotify or Rdio or… you name it.

Of course it’s not like every artist or label would want to have all the infrastructure to distribute music streams to their fans, for some it’s simply not possible. I think, that’s exactly the niche for current streaming services to move on — be a service providers for artists and labels,music-delivery networks if you will.

Who controls the experience?

But why artists and labels would want to do that after all?

Simply because it allows them to control the music experience, how their fans experience music they produce. Actually I think, that’s important thing which is completely overlooked by the current model of music distribution over the Web — Spotify and friends completely lock music experience on themselves thus now we feel music through the prism of “Excel-like” columns and “iTunes-like” grids.

But that’s not only about user interfaces. Having artists and labels control the music experience also makes the experience itself more immersive and interesting — from artist’s sharing demo recordings (like they do now on SoundCloud but not on Spotify) to label’s providing proper discount for tickets for gigs or merchandise (for long-term subscribers for example). Maybe there are also some other interesting forms of interaction between artists and their fans which currently are not possible, not effective or simply not invented yet.

So we decided that people transact directly with artists and labels, not through aggregators like Spotify. Doesn’t it become a lot more difficult for someone to listen to a particular song? Yes, but only if music as audio streams is behind the pay-wall and I don’t think it is the way to go — music as audio should be globally and freely accessible.

A song as a file isn’t a valuable product, the so-called “piracy” thing already proved that and not in way that files are easy to copy but in a way that files are not sufficient to experience music as art. That’s why most of so-called “pirates” spend a lot of money on music and I think even more spent by them on merchandise, concert tickets and donations towards artists.

Again, having the ecosystem where artists have transactions directly with their fans can do much more than selling files and delivering audio streams to people. That way there’s no reason to keep audio behind the pay-wall.

Music Players

Let’s pretend our so much desired “distributed music” model finally happened. Spotify and Rdio turned out to be music-delivery networks and there’s no reason for them to have such amazing desktop, web or mobile apps like they do now.

Someone have to build music players and the fact that we have a standardized “music distribution protocol” helps a lot there because such music players can stream music from anywhere supporting this protocol.

Actually I expect that there will be an entire market of such music playerswhich is focused on music experience and not on music content itself. Remember those shiny times when everyone was able to create a Twitter client? I think that’s possible to do on a much larger scale with music.

Music Discovery

There’s another interesting question — how to find music if it comes from different sources which are dynamic and decentralized?

First, music metadata should be available to everyone. Initiatives such as MusicBrainz or Discogs already do a great deal of work in that direction, but labels and artists should collaborate with them.

In that place I imagine a BitTorrent-like technology for distributing metadata in some standardized format which allows further resolution of metadata into audio streams or some other experiences respecting all the transactions between an artist and a consumer.

Second, we need music discovery engines which can work with that “globally accessible metadata” and produce some guides for users through the music world.

There’s already a market of music discovery engines but now they either are locked-in to use with some music streaming service or simply work in B2B area and power recommendation systems for Spotify or Rdio (thinkThe Echonest).

It would be naturally for them to switch to consumer-facing business models and develop plug-ins for “new music players” which work with “music distribution protocol” and use “globally accessible metadata”.

Conclusion

I believe that the future of music is in the “distributed music” model.

Shift from big and sluggish monopolies to small and responsive parties could only be a good thing, especially given the life we have now with “Web-everywhere” paradigm.

That way we can have entirely new markets spawned — like for music UIs or modern and effective discovery engines which can actually work with the global massive of music in the world.

Music as audio should be freely and globally accessible. Additional music experiences which are not dictated by commercial based opinions (think of big labels and intermediaries like Spotify or YouTube) could be provided by artists and small labels on artistic and high quality basis.

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