Music Tech – It’s Been A Long Hard Winter

Img-register-newsletter-Guest Post by Cortney Harding on This Week In Music Tech

An update on last week’s post: there were some pretty good discussions on Twitter and elsewhere, most of which were civil and interesting. Over at Billboard, Andrew Flanagan dug deeper and reported that, according to YouTube, artists who choose not to be part of Music Key would still have right to use Content ID and pull down any or all of their music, should they choose to. Assuming YouTube doesn’t reverse course, it all seems pretty cut and dry — artists have the right to stay and be part of Music Key, or pull their content and go elsewhere.

I’ve also started hearing rumblings of an artist backlash against Soundcloud’s plans to monetize by putting audio ads at the start of tracks. The logic of all this is a little curious — how do artists, who presumably want to get paid, think Soundcloud is going to make money? Magic? Sorting out who gets what from the massive numbers of remixes and covers on Soundcloud is going to take a ton of time, and I expect many DJs are going to feel dissatisfied when it’s all over. Some have predicted that this might be a bad year for Soundcloud, and while I’m reserving judgement, they seem to have lost their way a bit recently.

In fact, most of music tech seems to be in a funk right now. Streaming just seems to chug along, with Spotify becoming ever-more-dominant (my guess is that Jay-Z will wind up selling WiMP to them at some point; those Nordic subscribers are probably worth some money). Beats is in limbo until we hear more from Apple, and other services will probably consolidate or disappear. Meanwhile, I still talk to plenty of people who are perfectly happy to just use Pandora and suffer through a few ads in order to have background music all the time. Some smaller companies are doing some cool things (including the company that I work for, Muzooka; look for an announcement soon), but overall, things feel kind of stale.

I’d love to go back and take the 30,000 foot view for a minute — what problems are we solving, exactly? In terms of distribution, streaming has likely come as far as it’s going to without some pretty big structural changes. All-you-can-eat music is pretty worthless without affordable, universal data coverage, but there’s nothing Spotify can do about that. Wi-fi enabled cars appear to be even closer (I fell for the Chevy ad during the Superbowl as well) but we’re still far away from a connected world. The biggest problems are still structural — my beautiful iPhone 6, my lifeline to the world, is still useless when I’m overseas or in certain parts of Manhattan.

I’ve often said that streaming is going to wind up being just another format in a long line of formats for music distribution, but now I think it’s going to stick around longer than I originally thought. I might be the only person on earth who is sad that Google Glass flopped, not because the current iteration looked good or had any real promise, but because of what it represented. It could have led to a world of radical transparency, where the whole world really was watching, and listening, and paying attention. I still think seeing the world through another person’s eyes is a great concept, and could have been huge for music. I could have clicked on a livestream of a show down the block, or half a world away. I could have watched music being made in real time, or seen what it’s like to play for a crowd of thousands. Maybe Glass was just too early for its own good.

The live space still seems oversaturated and underserved, with enough apps to tell me what bands are in town on any given evening to fill a phone, but very few to tell me which I’ll like or help me have an enjoyable experience. Most venues continue to focus on attracting a younger crowd without realizing just how much money they’re leaving on the table by not hosting shows that start earlier and feature some creature comforts. I’d also still love to be able to just put on a show in the background and see what a certain band sounds like live before I commit to seeing them, or watch a show I missed because of a work or family commitment.

What I’m most excited about are innovations outside of the music space, and how they’ll impact how we consume music and other content in the future. Twitter was in no way a music app and yet it has radically revolutionized the way we interact with artists; ditto YouTube, Instagram, Vine, etc. Right now I’m really interested in mobile payments startups, mostly because waiting in line at stores is an unnecessary waste of time in this day and age. Will the ability to pay with a click have any impact on how we consume music, especially now that we’ve moved away from purchasing physical copies of albums anyway? Certainly concert tickets could be sold via codes on posters and ads, and of course merch sales would be easier than ever. One-click IRL shopping also allows for more impulse buying — people waiting in long lines often just give up and decide they don’t really need an item, and mobile payments reduce that friction.

People also hate on the sharing economy, sometimes with good reason, but it could have transformative effects on how artists tour and make music. There’s an “Airbnb for gear” now, which could allow many more low-income artists to start making music and even touring. The sharing economy also allows artists to monetize their apartments and cars when on the road, providing a nice little income boost.

Will the next big thing in music come from inside the space, or somewhere totally unexpected? I don’t know, but I do hope something cool comes soon — it’s getting a little dull over here.

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