I love music.
I probably listen to music 4-6 hours a day, much of it while I am working.
And I am not an expert on music, digital business models, digital technology, or the music business. I am simply a humble, passionate user.
I am worried that the “market” for music is going to evolve away from what I want. Is downloaded music over? Is streaming dead? Or doomed to being a loss-leader for larger behemoths like cell phone carriers or Amazon?
Ever since digital music and downloading emerged, I have been happy to pay for music. Most of my iTunes library was built from ripping my CDs. And as the RIAA and its business allies screamed and shouted and whinged about illegal downloads in the era of Napster, I seethed that all those freeloaders were making life difficult for me by provoking various forms of DRM (digital rights management). For example, I couldn’t copy music from a first generation iPod from the iPod to a second computer. I paid for the music, and now this wall of property rights was inserted in MY TECHNOLOGY.
Models evolved. Pandora came along and at first I loved it. But then, I realized, I wanted to be able to play the song I wanted when I wanted. Too many hours were spent trying to “trick” Pandora into the perfect mix of alternative, folk, americana, jazz, and bluegrass.
I tied to get off iTunes with a Songbird experiment. But something happened and it mixed up meta data and then I had songs with the wrong titles. I am still looking for an iTunes alternative, preferably one that folds lyrics in.
RDIO came along, and I happily signed up. $10 a month for unlimited PC streaming of anything I wanted? Yes, please.
I learned about emusic. Which has been around for awhile, in turns out. I can often get songs for $0.49 or $0.79! The model also constrains my spending to $15 a month on new music. I listen to music on RDIO. When I hear something I like, I pop over to emusic.com and buy it. If I want to make a mix cd for a friend, I go into iTunes. It all works just fine.
But emusic changed its catalog to focus only on “indie artists and labels.” Fine. But, really, no Indigo Girls? So, am I back to buying from Amazon or iTunes? Are the artists even seeing anything fair in these purchases? Spotify et al have big revenue streams, but most of that goes to the labels, not the creators of the music.
Rdio won’t make the details of its revenue public, but Spotify took in more than half a billion dollars last year. Nevertheless, its losses grew from from $60 million to $78 million. Spotify executives say 70 percent of its revenue went to paying licensing fees. (From NPR).
eMusic, through its editorial, magazine-like portal, Wondering Sound, is trying to make music discovery and curating a service you want. That is fine, as far as it goes, but the link from listening to buying then becomes too convoluted. I hear a song I like on Rdio, or through its pretty good social media features, and then I have to hunt for it on eMusic.com, and if not there, maybe Amazon? Maybe iTunes? But pay more? And also feel like I am no longer supporting emusic’s love-of-music ethos? It is like buying music from Wal-Mart instead of a record store. I _LIKE_ hanging out in the record store.
One jazz music writer covers some of the emusic changes and what it means for his tastes.
Meanwhile, vinyl is making its little comeback, even in our house, led by my music-phile son, Elijah. Music I love, like The National, or San Fermin, or Sharon Von Etten, I’d be willing to buy and own as vinyl for the audio quality.
Why are labels so powerful still? Because they control the back catalogs?
Why can’t there be a stream-and-purchase model? Emusic.com has a stream part, but you are capped at like ten hours a month. Why wouldn’t musicians seek out a label-free distribution platform so they can record music and have it available to stream, download or hard copy purchase without going through a label? A platform that also catalyzes concert-going and other revenue streams for them?
UPDATE: Pandora seems to have some ideas along these lines, as here Fortune describes Customer Relationship Management for artists…