Apps & Mobile

Promised Land: Youth Culture, Disruptive Startups, And The Social Music Revolution

KyleIf you read Hypebot, you know music technology writer and user experience researcher Kyle Bylin. Whether in his writings or on the Upward Spiral podcast, Kyle has always sought to understand not just how music consumption and the music industry are changing, but why. Now he's published a much anticipated collection of his best essays. I've read it, and it is unequivocally a 'must read' for anyone who cares about music and its future. – Bruce Houghton

From the book: The most interesting thing about this book is that it’s written by a North Dakota kid who dreamed of being a songwriter and used his writing skills to break into the music business. The irony is that I failed out of College English at Mayville State University because I never read the class-assigned book, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, which I learned counted as a large percentage of your grade.

I still remember asking the teacher in the middle of the final exam what the word “emboldened” meant, her telling me that I would know if I had read through the book, and realizing that I was screwed, as there was no way that I would pass.

You wouldn’t think that a small town, farm boy would form deep insights into the state of the music business, but thanks in large part to my tech-savvy father I had dial-up Internet and file-sharing clients like everyone else. I still remember using AudioGalaxy to download 10 to 12 songs a night and burning them on to CD for my Walkman. I also remember being a one and a half hour drive from the nearest big box retailer, such as Best Buy or Walmart, and my family only made that trip every few months. I downloaded songs in my teenage days because albums were geographically unavailable and my desktop computer was right in front of me.

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If you fast forward about thirteen years later, it still takes the same time to reach Grand Forks, North Dakota and my childhood home looks roughly the same. But I’m a young adult now, this MacBook Air can fit inside a manila envelope, and a mobile app on my iPhone 5 called Spotify is playing “The Messenger” by Linkin Park on repeat. So how did I break into the business? How did we go from illegal access to unlimited music via AudioGalaxy and dial-up to legal access to millions of songs via a smartphone, mobile data, and a streaming service? How did I just share a lyric snippet from this song to all of my friends via Facebook and Twitter?

Well, that is what this collection of essays covers: my journey into the center of the music industry from August 2008 to July 2014. I started writing at 20-years-old as a college student, Target employee, and record label intern. I went on to become the editor of Hypebot.com, a chart manager at Billboard, and a technology analyst and user researcher at Live Nation Labs, a web and mobile product group inside of the parent company. The first half of the book was mostly written while I worked at Target and Hypebot.com in Fargo, North Dakota. The second half was drafted while I held roles at Billboard and Live Nation Labs in Los Angeles, California.

During this time, I reported on developments in youth culture and disruptive startups that came together to create major shifts in the music industry. When I joined the online discussion, it centered on the impact of file-sharing clients and whether music fans would purchase digital downloads. People criticized record labels for stonewalling startups and suing fans. As time passed, the conversation shifted toward the rise of smartphones and apps. Music streaming services gained the connectivity and portability needed to interest fans and reach the mainstream market; everyone grew excited about the future of music listening and discovery.

It’s interesting to wonder how my 13-year-old self, who grew up in the digital music revolution and used to download songs, would respond if his 26-year-old self traveled back in time and gave him an iPhone 5, complete with mobile data and Spotify’s app. He would probably be pissed off that he hasn’t (yet) become a famous songwriter, but I think he would be pretty damn excited to learn that he could play whatever song he wanted, wherever he wanted. Given that I can only know my 26-year-old self, who has been using Spotify’s app since it launched in the U.S. three years ago, I know that I take unlimited access to music for granted.

But unlimited access to music is the promised land —  the musical utopia that my 13-year-old self believed should exist, but took over a decade to develop. We can now play any song that we want on Spotify, follow close friends to see what they are listening to, and share new favorites through the “Messages” feature. We can now hear a song in a coffee shop, identify it using a music-ID app like Shazam or SoundHound, and listen to it through Spotify’s app. We can even add the song to our music library, create a radio station, or read the lyrics. Sure, it’s still the early days for these music companies, but they are quickly revolutionizing modern life.

Excerpted from Promised Land: Youth Culture, Disruptive Startups, and the Social Music Revolution . Follow or contact Kyle Bylin on Twitter at @kylebylin.

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