Trandall6’s Blog

Archive for January 2010

In arguments for or against subscription music it is consistently argued that people wish to own music not rent it.

The most vocal opponent of subscription music is Apple founder Steve Jobs. He argued in a Rollingstone interview back in 2003: “These [music subscription] services that are out there now are going to fail. Music Net’s gonna fail, Press Play’s gonna fail. Here’s why: People don’t want to buy their music as a subscription. They bought 45’s; then they bought LP’s; then they bought cassettes; then they bought 8-tracks; then they bought CD’s. They’re going to want to buy downloads. People want to own their music. You don’t want to rent your music — and then, one day, if you stop paying, all your music goes away”.

Technological advancements are now making such an argument is increasingly irrelevant. People in the days of 45’s and LP’s did not purchase the record for the tangible object, the success of iTunes proves this. Rather they purchased 45’s, CD’s, etc. for the convenience of being able to listen to the recordings they desired, when they desired. This being opposed to waiting for the song they enjoyed to be played on the radio. However such records are usually, and still are priced to the extent that an extremely limited amount of music could be accessed each month. People desire to listen to far more music than this. Even 99c singles on iTunes do not satisfy my appetite for music before I run out of money. This is why people are turning to file sharing and will turn to subscription music if it is set up properly.

This desire to listen to more than say, one album a month is evident in youth culture. Teenagers today, the primary music market have access to a far wider variety of music and they choose to access it. This is evident as in the 1980’s for instance, due to economic limitations kids would only buy around one record a month, and strongly identify with it. High schools were filled with subcultures of Hip-Hop fans, Metal heads, and many other groups. Where as today, while there may be some identification with an artist that strongly resonates with an individual, kids do not form subcultures as strongly based on music any more.

A large scale subscription music model becoming the primary means by which people obtain their music also creates the issue that it would drive most record stores out of business. Speciality retailers that sell merchandise and nostalgia items such as vinyl may still exist, but chain stores such as Virgin, and even CD’s at Walmart would probably be a thing of the past. People consistently argue the loss of such stores to argue against digital music. To me this is a non issue. Such businesses will fade and die unless they change their model. It isn’t tragic or sad, it is capitalism. Public Enemy rapper Chuck D stated something along the lines of those that want to own music as a tangible physical product need to get with the times.

I personally take pride in my huge CD collection, the music I own. However I hope that one day my children will look at it the same way I look at my father’s vinyl collection, as a relic of the past.

Hi this is the second part of a very short series explaining why subscription music could save the music industry, as well as giving us a more enjoyable listening experience. It will now be explained why subscription music has not yet taken off as the primary means that people enjoy music and suggestions for the form a large scale subscription model could take.

Why it has not yet worked

A reason subscription music has not risen from its current status as a niche service is technological constraints. Broadband infrastructure would have to exist to the extent that users could access high quality streaming music in the home. Customers would most probably expect to access the same music with a portable device as well.

However within the next decade these issues could also be resolved. A type of Wi-Fi is currently in development which has a signal range of over one hundred kilometres, rather than 10 metres. Moreover this type of Wi-Fi allows roaming, meaning once the user is out of range of one transmitter they pick up the signal of another, like a cell phone.

Suggestions for the form it could take

 

If carefully designed, subscription music could offer a similar cultural and economic model as the pay for recordings model of years past. Firstly statistics of what users have listened to could be anonymously recorded. This would allow for Billboard style charts, the popularity of artists could be measured again.

This could also help the artist, as a payment model could be put in place which compensates the artists for what they contribute to the popularity of the system. More listens would equal more money.

I also believe that what music is accessed on a subscription model should completely remain the user’s choice. By this I mean that if the user wants to hear, for example the Dixie Chicks they simply should access that music without being marketed other music through the device or having what they desire be off limits in some fashion. Music should be marketed separately from the subscription service through traditional means such as old media including MTV, RollingStone magazine, radio, etc and new media such as internet, MySpace, etc.

 

I started writing this blog for a university class. I am now on holidays but I miss all the writing I got to do during the semester so I have decided to write about things I am interested in here. So I guess I am a blogger now. I am currently into the idea of subscription music.

I recently read an article that introduced me to the idea of subscription music on a scale beyond that of the Zune, Napster, etc. which I believe could save the record industry. As will be explained below this is an industry that I believe is worth saving.

The article, which can be accessed here: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/02/magazine/02rubin.t.html is concerned with Rick Rubin’s attempts as co-head of Columbia records to “save the record business”. He proposes a model in which “You would subscribe to music”, “You’d pay, say, $19.95 a month, and the music will come anywhere you’d like. In this new world, there will be a virtual library that will be accessible from your car, from your cellphone, from your computer, from your television. Anywhere. The iPod will be obsolete, but there would be a Walkman-like device you could plug into speakers at home. You’ll say, ‘Today I want to listen to … Simon and Garfunkel,’ and there they are.”

This may seem kind of out there, for example it would be difficult to get record companies to cooperate to create a library of all their material, even if there are only 4 major ones left. It would also prove difficult to make such a model economically profitable, and it is dependent on the existence of certain technologies such as broadband infrastructure. However major labels are quickly running out of other options.

It is widely acknowledged that the record business is dying. 2009 was the eighth year in a row that album sales declined, this time by 12.5%. Legally downloaded singles, while accounting for 40% of music sales are not closing this gap. In the US alone 5000 record company employees have been laid off since 2000 and 2700 record stores have closed since 2003. This is obviously caused by the proliferation of technology such as peer 2 peer file sharing that makes it easy to create high quality copies of music. Furthermore studies that can be accessed here http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/02/magazine/02rubin.t.html?pagewanted=3 show that young people primarily obtain music by stealing it, via means such as p2p or making friends a copy. They however, do not consider this stealing.

Co-founder of Intel Andy Grove has explained companies (or in this case an entire industry) face “strategic inflection points” at various periods. This is where the climate drastically changes giving the company the option of starting in a new direction, for initially less profits before business picks up again. Or the business could simply continue in the previous direction, for increasingly less profits. Subscription music could be a new direction.

This is because subscription music represents both a profitable alternative and deterrent from music piracy. This is primarily due to reasons of convenience. When downloading music peer 2 peer users could download viruses, with music subscription this no longer is an issue. Much more importantly it would allow users to quickly and easily access music they want. Obscure music is often hard to find in peer 2 peer networks, or it may not be there at all. This music could easily be obtained from a large subscription catalogue. The catalogue could be infinitely large with material quickly accessible, rather than the long process required to illegally download. Steve Jobs has stated that the success of iTunes is due to the fact it is easy to quickly find music on it. It’s success must be the result of convenience as the user is getting no physical product for their money and the same files usually exist on file sharing networks. However rather than getting maybe two albums for $19.95 on iTunes, with subscription music the user could access thousands, even millions of albums for that price.

There are many misguided people (usually pushing a far left agenda) that argue music piracy is a good thing as it somehow librates us from having to pay money for culture. To these groups I suggest that they acknowledge that reality, whether you like it or not is we live in a capitalist society. In such a society people get paid money for how they contribute to it. For example if a builder constructs a house they should be paid for that contribution to society. It simply is unfair to assume those that serve society in the information sector such as writers, musicians or computer programmers should do so for free in their spare time while working days at McDonalds or something to financially support themselves.

Furthermore as we have seen over the 20th century or so having a mass entertainment industry can be culturally beneficial. For example artists such as the Beatles have given entire generations common ground. Types of reconciliation has occurred between conflicting demographics in society through the shared appreciation of artists such as Michael Jackson. People of different geographic or cultural backgrounds can interact easier with shared social capital obtained from music.

Material that receives mass distribution also tends to be of greater quality. Long Tail music services such as Mp3.com, a site where anyone get upload their songs have been unsuccessful. This is because the material posted mostly is of low quality (sorry!). Music however has to be of high quality to justify the effort of exposing large audiences to it.

Subscription music could also help people discover music. For example with the current model of purchasing recordings previously a person would have to commit money towards a record to hear it. This commitment could keep say, a fifteen year old kid from checking out Bob Dylan, having become curious after reading of his legendary status. However with sub-music he/she could access the music and potentially enrich their life.

I understand I have touched on a lot of different areas here, this was intended to explain, in a concise fashion why subscription music becoming the dominant way people access music would be a positive thing. In later posts I will continue to argue this as well as offering suggestions for the form a mass subscription model could take.

I obtained much of the information in this post from these sources:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/02/magazine/02rubin.t.html?_r=1

http://www.rollingstone.com/news/story/15137581/the_record_industrys_decline



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  • trandall6: Thanks alot for that comment. I had never even considered the potental loss of data which could occur under such a model. Like you said, differnet per
  • indie69: Excellent part 3. You make some great points and bring up ideas that I hadn't thought of before. Different perspectives. The one thing I'd point o
  • indie69: Thanks for the comment on my blog. You've challenged some of my ideas, too. But really I just agree with you on the subscription model with the only r

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