Music In the Cloud: Battle For The Celestial Jukebox

Yesterday Bruce wrote about "How Google & Amazon Hurt Recorded Music By Launching Cloud Lockers". Today Clyde Smith weighs in.

image from With the recent debuts of cloud-based music storage services with streaming abilities from Amazon and Google, plus something on the way from Apple, talk of the cloud has moved from the business side to the consumer side. We'll be hearing lots of marketing speak in the coming days as if the cloud was something brand new and magical that will make life better for everyone. But, depending on what's being discussed, the cloud concept may be fairly old for jaded users of the Internet while further advancing the move towards music as something that's less of a special experience and more of a digital commodity.

For the music consumer, the cloud basically refers to music being accessible in the same way web-based email like Hotmail and Gmail function. Rather than being tied to a desktop, one can now access music from any device at any location that is connected to the Internet. So rather than storing one's music on a CD or hard drive, music simply streams, whether rented or owned.

There are significant technical developments on the business side, developed by such companies as Amazon and Google, that have led to cheaper and, sometimes, more reliable services for web companies. But cloud music services for consumers are still limited by major labels, who have always tended to fight technical developments before exploiting them, and by new overseers such as Apple, who can block great mobile apps if they compete too closely with their own plans or contain content they don't like.

An academic paper by Jeremy Wade Morris, recently published on First Monday, steps back and looks at the big picture implications of music in the cloud and the development of the "celestial jukebox":

"The cloud metaphor obscures the fact that the transition is more than a simple shift from music as a good to music as a service. Music in the cloud represents a particular cultural model of music distribution — one that enmeshes users in a network of technologies and a process of continual commodification of the music experience."

Now that's a heady couple of sentences but Morris is mostly pretty readable for an academic and he does a nice job of considering technical and business developments in both the Internet and music industries. He points out a number of concerns that artists and labels should consider as music becomes accessible everywhere as "background to so many of our activities" and ultimately "merely one of many multimedia options".

Morris argues that as music increasingly relies on a combination of communication networks, devices and software, constraints on one's access to music are driven by commercial concerns that undermine claims of listener freedom and mobility. So even as new business models emerge so do new intermediaries and power figures that complicate the relationship between musician and fan.

Yet Morris ultimately takes a positive view of the experiments of artists and startup companies as they explore new ways of packaging and delivering music that evade the corporate desire to command and control. If you've been getting too bogged down in the details of late, consider checking out his essay and reflecting on the ways in which emerging technical developments are affecting your own progress as an artist and/or as a business person.

Hypebot contributor Clyde Smith is a freelance writer and blogger. Flux Research is his business writing hub and All World Dance is his primary web project.

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  1. I’m very annoyed tonight to discover that i can no longer use spotify for free, its at least 4.99 a month now apparently, otherwise i can only listen to each song 5 times! Well i wont be paying, i cant stand companies who suck you in then try to force you to pay. Seriously, do they really expect me to pay 10 a month to access their music on my mobile? I could just buy a cd every month really couldnt i

  2. The Majors are going to get a deal it they don’t have one already.
    However Independent that still are tryin to earn a living recording music and selling it won’t get a deal are the ones that will get killed by some multi-national-corporations that are stealing the potential of earnings for them via these services.
    FYI the Major labels only account for 20 if not less of the musicians. And anyone that thinks music is a service is an asshole and doest have a clue what it take from the artist and it’s label to make the magic happen.
    How about we come to your place of work and take all of your content and put it on the cloud and serve it to the world.

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