Over the past few weeks, I’ve drawn together my views on the 30 most important trends in the digital music market, affecting how we discover, consume and share music (as well as how labels, artists and other companies distribute it to us). Although it’s been six separate posts, I thought it was worth putting them all together in one fat megapost. Read on…
1. Ad-funded Music
We’re comfortable with the idea that adverts fund TV shows, magazines and newspapers, and websites, so why not music? That’s the theory, anyway, which startups like SpiralFrog, We7, Qtrax and others are investigating. It seems like a neat solution to the music industry’s problem of people not wanting to pay for music downloads, providing a legitiate revenue stream for free music.
In truth, it’s early days – with SpiralFrog in particular struggling to make the business model work quickly. Yet that’s not a sign that ad-funded music won’t work, as shown by the news that MySpace plans to trial the idea, and even that Apple may bring an ad-funded element to iTunes at some point.
Meanwhile, new spins on the ad-funded model are appearing regularly, such as RCRD LBL, which is part-blog and part record label, offering free tunes supported by adverts on its site. Nobody has found the secret formula for making ad-funded music pay off yet, but everybody is trying to.
2. Console Games With Music Downloads
I’m talking music games here, like Guitar Hero III, Rock Band and SingStar, which are offering a new model of being able to buy and download extra tracks after you’ve bought the initial game. Velvet Revolver and the Foo Fighters are providing the first such ‘track packs’ for Guitar Hero III, for example.
The record labels love the idea – people who wouldn’t pay for a digital single WILL pay (and probably pay more than 79p) for a Guitar Hero III track. And there’s already data showing that bands whose music are included in these games get a separate sales boost on digital stores like iTunes, so they’re clamoring to get into the games (not something that was always true in the past).
When a supposedly anti-establishment band like the Sex Pistols deigns to re-record one of their classic tracks for a game, you know something’s up. And gamers certainly aren’t getting the feeling they’ve been cheated…
3. Music Search Engines
Want free music from pretty much any band you like, instantly? It’s not just about BitTorrent anymore. Several music search engines have sprung up in the last year, including Seeqpod, Songza and Skreemr.
They don’t host music themselves, but instead search and sort tunes hosted on other sites. As such, they’re seemingly on just the right side of the law, in terms of not getting shut down for copyright infringement (at least, that’s what one top lawyer reckons).
4. Beatles Go Digital Speculation
It feels like we’ve been gossiping about Beatles songs being released digitally for years. Probably because we have. But this year has been a particularly fertile one for rumours. Yes, admittedly that one about the Yellow Submarine iPod turned out to be cobblers (for now), but a far more accurate source is Sir Paul McCartney himself, who recently said that the Beatles will finally go digital in 2008. Probably.
In the meantime, we’ll have to make do with bootlegs like the recent Cracked Pepper mash-up album, which splices the famous Beatles album with everything from ELO and The Clash to Groove Armada.
5. Governments Crack Down on File-Sharing
So far, when it comes to fighting P2P file-sharing, it’s been the music industry making the running – for example the US-based RIAA suing individual file-sharers, or fellow industry body the IFPI supplying information to police around the world to help them raid BitTorrent tracker owners (more on both of these later in this series of posts).
However, in France the government is getting involved, with planned legislation to remove internet access from people caught downloading pirated content (music, films, games…).
The IFPI says it would like to see Gordon Brown’s government follow suit here in the UK, although many politicians would rather see the music industry and ISPs come to some arrangement. Whatever happens, the prospect of losing your internet connection is likely to have an even bigger ‘stick’ effect for music fans than even the threat of fines.
6. Choose-Your-Own Pricing
The biggest story in digital music right now concerns variable pricing where it’s the fans who are deciding just how variable it is. Why the hype? Radiohead. When the band decided to let fans decide how much to pay for their ‘In Rainbows’ album, they had fellow artists, labels and everyone else in the music industry looking on in excitement/puzzlement/horror (delete as appropriate).
Unfortunately, the band haven’t revealed any sales figures yet, aside from slapping down analysts’ guesses, so it’s hard to judge just how successful it was. However, there’s already a knock-on effect.
Courtney Love says she might do it. Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails is equally keen. And even Sir Cliff Richard himself has been testing a slightly different scheme, whereby the more fans preorder the digital version of his new album, the lower its price goes. It proved so popular that the minimum price – £3.99 – was reached in just a week. Who said wrinklies weren’t web-literate? More of which in a minute.
Even opera singers are getting involved – soprano Barbara Hendricks is Doing A Radiohead with her new album. Indeed, the only dissenter so far has been Kiss frontman Gene Simmons, who said in an interview: “I open a store and say “Come on in and pay whatever you want.” Are you on f*cking crack? Do you really believe that’s a business model that works?”
7. USB Music Sticks
Radiohead are also involved in another big digital music trend, albeit in this case it wasn’t exactly their choice. I’m talking USB Music Sticks, where you buy an album on a USB stick, with digital songs and other content – videos, photos and so on. Radiohead’s old label EMI are selling the band’s entire back catalogue on a bear-shaped USB stick for example.
US band Matchbox Twenty are selling their latest album as a USB wristband (now that’s just the slightest bit poncey), while Amy Winehouse and Kanye West’s latest albums will soon be USB sticks too.
8. Record labels taking on iTunes
Apple has sold billions of songs through its iTunes Store – all of them legal, paid-for downloads. So the major record labels must be chuffed with Steve Jobs, right? Wrong. They don’t like Apple’s dominance of the market, they don’t like Jobs’ insistence on every song costing the same price, and they don’t like the way Apple keeps its iPod profits to itself.
One way of breaking that dominance is to throw their weight behind rival services like the music stores run by Amazon and Nokia – companies big enough (potentially) to pose stiff competition to iTunes. But another trend is for the major labels to wonder whether they couldn’t do this music selling lark themselves.
To wit: Total Music. It’s the brainchild of Universal Music Group, which is getting other labels on board, and it aims to solve all those complaints above. So, it’s a music subscription service, except consumers won’t pay the subscription – MP3 player makers and handset manufacturers will.
The theory is that these companies will sell millions more players, so it’ll be worthwhile. Cynics would argue that the major labels didn’t do a great job of selling music last time round, with Pressplay (a digital store run by UMG and fellow label Sony BMG, which flopped). Watch out for Total Music next year, when it’s set to make its debut.
9. Old Bands Getting Webby
Led Zeppelin RAWK. Millions of people tried to get tickets to their reunion gig at the O2 Arena, which takes place in just a few days time. Plant, Page, Jones and Bonham (Jr.) will doubtless bestride the stage like stadium colossi (or something), but in parallel to the big gig the band have launched a host of innovative digital promotions.
So, they looked for a support band on Web 2.0 site Ziddio, launched an interactive gig timeline on their own site, ran a promotion on Music 2.0 site imeem, and unleashed a special $99 digital box set on iTunes for people wanting to catch up with their back catalogue. Not bad for a bunch of old geezers.
Meanwhile, even Bruce Springsteen is on MySpace, The Who are launching an online subscription service for hardcore fans, and I’ve written above already about Sir Cliff joining the variable digital pricing revolution. It’s interesting that these old, established artists are frankly embracing digital music in a more innovative way than many of their young whippersnapper rivals.
10. Joost and Online TV
News came through the other day that Telly 2.0 service Joost is launching a dedicated Hard-Fi channel. Yes, that’s right, an entire TV channel devoted to one newish band from Staines.
It’ll have videos, tour diaries, live gigs, interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, with fresh material being added regularly. Expect more bands to follow, sensing a chance to engage directly with their fans (without some sarcastic Popworld presenter getting in the way), at a relatively low cost – since many are already filming this kind of stuff for DVD extras.
Joost has plenty of other music channels already, of course, as do its rivals in the Telly 2.0 sector. Expect to see more forward-thinking bands signing deals with these companies in the coming months – not least because the egothrill of having your own TV channel will keep the average lead singer happy for months.
11. DRM-free music
Perhaps THE big story of 2007 in digital music was the move towards selling DRM-free music, which in most cases meant unprotected MP3 files. That wasn’t the case for Apple when it announced its iTunes Plus initiative, mind – the tunes there come in the AAC format. Still, Apple’s decision to drop DRM made a big impact.
I should get one thing clear though: hundreds of independent labels have been selling DRM-free music for a long time, through stores like eMusic. So the story of 2007 was the changing attitudes of the major labels, with EMI leading the way when it went DRM-free earlier this year – the spark for iTunes Plus.
Since then, there’ve been a number of developments. Apple recently dropped the price of iTunes Plus downloads to match DRM’d files, while Amazon launched its own entirely DRM-free music store in September. Even Microsoft, which is a big player in music DRM, started selling unprotected files through its Zune Marketplace store.
Do DRM-free songs sell more copies than their protected equivalents though? UK etailer 7digital says they do, reporting that DRM-free files outsell protected ones by 4:1. The company has signed big deals with the likes of Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones as part of its push towards DRM-free.
EMI’s rivals haven’t exactly rushed to follow in the label’s footsteps, mind, despite pressure from UK music retailers. However, as we move into 2008, the bandwagon is rolling once more, with Universal Music Group running trials, and even DRM-fanatic Warner Music Group reportedly weakening its resolve to keep protection.
12. Artists moaning about iTunes
Radiohead might have been innovative with their choose-your-own pricing approach to their ‘In Rainbows’ album, but in other respects they’re more disappointing. They’re one of the few bands to refuse to sell their albums on iTunes, due to not wanting them to be available as individual tracks. AC/DC take a similar view, while recently Jay-Z also shunned iTunes for the same reason.
It’s a shame. Put simply, the musical world is changing, and a lot of people simply don’t think of an album as a unified piece of art to be listened to solemnly from start to finish. People sample, they share, and then they cherry-pick the songs they like, and leave the ones they don’t.
It must be frustrating for bands who feel they’ve created something special, only to see fans not buy the experimental bits / in-between-song skits. But the fact is, the way people buy music has changed: the artists might have made the music, but who are they to try and control how people are allowed to purchase it?
13. The industry plays whack-a-mole with BitTorrent trackers
It was easier in the old days for the music industry, when there were a set number of P2P file-sharing services that could be taken to court and, in most cases, eventually shut down. It’s a different kettle of fish now thanks to BitTorrent, with hundreds of trackers around the world, which have to be shut down individually.
The highest profile example is UK-based OiNK, which was shut down in October, but there have been raids around the world, with music industry body the IFPI working with local police on the prosecutions.
The trouble for the industry is that Torrent trackers and similar sites keep springing back up. So OiNK may be dead, but Waffles.fm is a ready-made replacement. Even old-skool Torrent trackers like Suprnova are being relaunched. And new services are appearing too, such as Picky Pirate, which mashes up Metacritic charts with popular Torrent sites.
14. Radio getting interactive
Radio isn’t a one-way medium any more. Technology firms are bringing new forms of interactivity to it, with the latest example being Cliq, a mobile application that lets you check out the most recent playlists of radio stations, and click through to buy tracks. All four major labels have signed up to the service, which has just gone live.
Meanwhile, a similar idea differently implemented can be seen in the emergence of iTunes tagging in the US, which comes with HD radios from JBL and Polk Audio (think the US equivalent of DAB, although that’s a bit of a simplification). Anyway, the radios have a button which lets you, when a track you like is played on a station that supports the technology, buy the song from iTunes.
More of this sort of thing, please! Although one complication is the way songs tend to get radio play before they actually go on sale, which could be frustrating for consumers using this technology.
15. MP3 blogs cause a stir
If you’re afeared of BitTorrent, MP3 blogs represent an alternative way to get hold of free music. They’re blogs, which also post MP3s (you could’ve guessed that from the name) – with Hype Machine being the most prominent example.
However, they’ve been the subject of a controversy recently, after a Guardian article claimed that they’re actively damaging the sales of music, particularly from the cool independent labels whose artists they tend to champion (which conversely are precisely the labels who often can’t afford to lose that many sales).
Not everyone agrees though, with one industry commentator claiming the MP3 blogs should be seen as “advocates, not pirates”, because they attract “active fans seeking out new and interesting sounds in a particular area”.
The argument could run and run. Some people have even suggested that MP3 blogs could become the new record labels, actually releasing songs by the artists they discover. They’re clearly going to continue having a big impact on the music industry, whatever.
16. The rise of mobile music
In the past, the biggest impact mobile phones had on the music industry was the shameful invention of Crazy Frog. Not any more. As we go into 2008, the music industry is genuinely excited about the potential of mobile handsets for music discovery and consumption, even if actual sales through the operators’ own music stores haven’t given Apple a headache.
To cite a few recent developments: Nokia launched its own music store, and then teamed up with Universal Music Group for a new ‘Comes With Music’ subscription service that’ll be paid for when you buy a handset. Vodafone has gone live with its own music subscription service, Omnifone’s MusicStation. And Sony Ericsson has announced plans for its own mobile music store in 2008.
The record labels are all keen to see something – anything – start to rival iTunes’ dominance in the digital music market, and many think mobile phones represent the best platform. Meanwhile, operators are still keen to talk up their own music stores, with Orange recently announcing that it sold 203,000 full-track downloads in October alone.
17. Bands giving music away for free
I don’t mean Radiohead’s honesty box policy either. I mean properly free. Like the Charlatans giving away their next album through XFM’s website. Or The Verve releasing their first new material as a free download on NME.com. Or Kylie giving away a megamix of her new material via her own website. Oh, and Prince’s notorious tie-up with the Daily Mail, of course.
The reasons for giving away brand new music are many and varied – to build a buzz, to increase gig ticket and merchandise sales, or just to get some attention for a record that nobody would otherwise buy. But the fact remains that in 2008, we’ll see more bands follow in the above artists’ footsteps.
18. The UGC / karaoke crossover
You might not be the next Mia Rose or Esmee Denters (or even the next Numa Numa guy), but that doesn’t mean you don’t want to bellow into a webcam and upload the musical results for the world to see. Thankfully, there are several sites springing up to cater for your exhbitionist tendencies.
EA’s The Sims On Stage is one example, as is kSolo. Meanwhile, if you’re a rapper, you might want to check out Vibe Magazine’s Rap Battle contest. And if you honk like a goose but dance like an angel, DanceJam does the same thing for dancing (and better still, MC Hammer is its co-founder.
TV talent shows like The X-Factor and Pop Idol have already taught us plenty about the democratisation of pop stardom, but these UGC karaoke sites take the idea even further.
19. The Net neutrality debate goes mainstream
Currently, the idea of net neutrality is something that’s debated by, in the main, techy types. Thing it, it’s more important than that, and 2008 will see the issue becoming more widely discussed. In short, it concerns whether your ISP has the right to moderate, block or throttle traffic according to its own commercial and/or regulatory motives. And music is at the heart of this.
Why? In the US, there’s already a controversy over whether ISP Comcast has been throttling P2P file-sharing traffic on its network. The ISP prefers to describe it as using “the latest technologies to manage our network” – an explanation which has cut little ice with campaigners.
Meanwhile, Canadian ISP Bell Sympatico has recently been accused of also throttling BitTorrent traffic on its own network. If European ISPs follow suit, watch this debate rage over here next year too, with music and films at the heart of it.
20. When is a leak not a leak?
In the 21st century music industry, songs and albums leak. They turn up on BitTorrent trackers days or even weeks before release, sometimes forcing that release date to be brought forward. It’s a pain for labels, but it happens.
One trend is for labels to sue any legitimate site that links to or hosts leaked music. For example, Britney Spears’ record label sued celebrity blogger Perez Hilton for posting numerous songs leaked from her new album ‘Blackout’ before it officially came out.
Yet there’s a parallel trend – the realisation that pre-release leaks can actually build anticipation for new albums, and increase sales rather than cannibalise them. Think of all those MySpace exclusives, for example, or… Britney Spears’ record label, which signed an official deal with MTV and saw a million people stream the album through it.
21. Unexpected companies distributing digital music
You thought digital music was just about iTunes? Think again, and then some. Plenty of companies want to get into the market, with some – Amazon for instance – having already made their moves. In the US, supermarket chain Wal-Mart already has a well-established music downloads site too.
But there are plenty more where they came from. Last year, for example, UK broadcaster ITV set up its own digital music store, while coffee chain Starbucks has teamed up with Apple to sell iTunes albums (not to mention launching its own record label, complete with Sir Paul McCartney and Joni Mitchell). Even British Airways has ambitions to sell digital music.
Not all these companies are focused on turning a profit from digital tunes, necessarily. It’s more about building customer loyalty, promoting their other products, and selling more Grande Lattes (guess which that is). We’re sure to see more unexpected companies ‘doing an iTunes’ in 2008, too.
22. AllOfMP3 is dead… long live AllOfMP3!
Well, long live its descendents, anyway. Last year saw the music industry and the long arm of the law team up to squeeze the life out of Russian downloads store AllOfMP3, which had long been criticised for its attitude towards music licensing (and its rock-bottom prices). Once the ability to make credit card payments was removed, the site was effectively dead.
Yet that wasn’t the end of the story. Partly because AllOfMP3’s founders appeared to simply set up shop under a new name, but also because several other sites immediately sprang up offering basically the same service – ultra cheap music downloads with no questions asked. As we enter 2008, it seems that the music industry hasn’t heard the last of its Russian nemesis.
23. Widgets everywhere
Music-based Web 2.0 widgets are already pretty common, and will only become more so this year. They take many forms though. For example, you’ve got widgets like SnoCap, which let musicians embed a widget into their MySpace profiles to sell their own songs from. You’ve got bands like Daft Punk and the White Stripes experimenting with their own promotional widgets.
And most of all, you’ve got dozens and dozens of Facebook applications, with record labels realising that they can get fans to do the hard promotional work for them, in a peer-to-peer stylee. This basic concept will be improved upon in 2008 though, with more sophisticated widgets coming out that potentially turn every music fan into a digital downloads store, getting commission from the songs they recommend to friends.
24. Music in podcasts… at last!
It’s perhaps not surprising that it’s taken a long time for the music industry to get its head around podcasts, particularly those from commercial radio stations. It’s the reason why for a long time you didn’t hear any music at all in commercial podcasts, even when they were from music radio shows – they didn’t have the licence to include any. And those amateur podcasters who did include music didn’t either (but didn’t care).
That’s now changed, albeit step by step. First, commercial podcasters here in the UK secured the rights to use 30-second clips of music in their podcasts – a start. It’s been the spur for a bunch of new launches, such as BBC Radio’s launch of podcasts from its pop, folk, hip hop, jazz and indie shows last November.
This year, will advertising-funded podcasts finally be able to offer full songs? Watch this space…
25. Cool viral promotions
This is kinda linked to the widget point above. Record labels are getting more innovative and experimental in how they use the web to promote new and established artists alike. The idea: websites and interactive thingies that are so cool, you’ll want to pass them onto friends rather than just see them as advertising.
The best example in 2007 was the Dylan messaging site launched to promote the latest Bob compilation, allowing you to make Dylan say whatever you wanted him to, in that famous video with the bits of paper. You know the one. More of this sort of thing in 2008 please! I’m looking forward to digitally daubing ‘CAPITALISM KILLS’ on all the yachts in Duran Duran’s ‘Rio’ video. Or something.
26. Music and social networking
I’ve covered this trend partly in other points – for example, the increasing number of music widgets for sites like Facebook. But there’s more to music and social networking than that. People are actually setting up social networks around music itself.
Some are niche, of course. Kylie has her own social network, while there’s another focused purely on DJs. MTV plans to launch a social network around the game Rock Band, while even MC Hammer has his own Web 2.0 startup in this vein, called DanceJam. Meanwhile, Phling builds a social network around general music.
It’s an open question whether these niche music social networks will take off. After all, it depends on whether people will be willing to invest time in yet another such site, rather than stay on the big players like Facebook, MySpace and Bebo. Meanwhile, all three of these are continuing to focus on music as a key feature in 2008 too.
27. Legal battles go on, but do they work?
There has been strong and consistent criticism of the US record industry’s decision to go after individual file-sharers in its battle against piracy – by contrast, the industry here in Europe appears to be more focused on shutting down BitTorrent trackers and other enablers, rather than prosecuting music fans.
However, the US-based RIAA scored a legal victory late last year, when Minnesota resident Jammie Thomas was fined a whopping $220,000 for sharing music (her supporters are currently funding her appeal by selling thongs…)
Does the threat of prosecution really put potential file-sharers off? Research last July indicated that illegal music downloading was actually at an all-time high, which indicates not. Meanwhile, the RIAA is facing increasing resistance to its policy of targeting university students with legal ‘pre-settlement’ letters (i.e. ‘pay us or we take you to court’), which could unravel this year.
28. Music subscription services trying to prove their worth
In theory, music subscriptions make great sense. Pay a single flat-free every month, and get as much music as you like. It’s the model used by services like Napster, RealArcade and – on mobile – MusicStation (offered here in the UK by Vodafone). However, subscription hasn’t shown the growth that was originally predicted.
Why? It’s hard to say. Maybe the idea was ahead of its time, and people are only now coming round to the idea. Maybe people prefer to get music for free (see point 27). Or maybe they’re balking at the DRM used in many of these services, which nixes your collection when you stop paying.
2008 is the year when we’ll find out if music subscriptions fly or not. They’ve certainly gained more credibility though, with the UK Charts Company launching a dedicated weekly chart tracking which songs are most streamed and/or downloaded through these services.
29. Ticket resellers feel the squeeze
2007 saw growing unease about the gig ticket reselling trade on eBay, as fans complained about concerts selling out in minutes, with many of the tickets then being auctioned for much more money (Kat eloquently ranted about this in November). eBay has always denied wrongdoing on its part. Meanwhile, a lucrative industry has sprouted up around the resale of tickets, with several online startups.
The music industry isn’t trying to stamp this nascent area out, surprisingly, but they do want it policed – with a cut of the proceeds going to artists. That was the suggestion of a collective of artist managers in the UK late last year, which proposed a Resale Rights Society which would get a fee for every ticket resold online, which would then be distributed to artists.
Naturally, the sites themselves aren’t so keen. Meanwhile, music fans will probably look on bemused at the idea that the row has shifted away from ‘are fans being ripped off?’ to ‘it’s fine that they’re being ripped off, but how do we divvy up the profits?’.
30. Will digital growth make up for CD shrinkage?
Despite all the exciting stuff covered in the previous 29 points, this is the big question for the music industry – and the one that’s causing music executives the most sleepless nights. Can the growth in digital music make up for the alarming slump in sales of physical CDs?
Whenever a record label announces its financial figures now, there’s a common refrain of ‘digital sales up, but physical sales down’ – with the latter far outweighing the former. It’s fair to say that right now, digital isn’t rescuing the music industry from its sales slide – it’s just making that slide a bit less bumpy.
Most of the exciting ideas covered previously in this feature have one thing in common – they’ve yet to prove their business models. If the record industry is to survive, it has to make more money out of digital music. Of course, some people argue that the record industry won’t survive. Place your bets now…
By Stuart Dredge
Tech Digest – Friday, January 4 02:35 pm
Top 10 Trends In Music For 2008
by bhoughton on January 9th, 2008
As a music lover here are the trends in 2008 that will effect you.
DRM IS DEAD. The final labels will drop all DRM within a month.
Mega-Stars are soooo 2007. Find the bands you love. Support them. Who cares if MTV doesn’t play their video? YouTube does..
The iPod is still cool but so is the Zune and other players.
Everything is going wireless: downloads and net radio on your cell, listen to your music collection anywhere.
NICHES RULE! Whether you like Scottish Bagpipe Metal or Mexican Punk there will be sites and communities for you.
Don’t pay for a subscription to Napster or Rhapsody. imeem and others give you almost the same thing for free.
Ringtones are over. Create your own and stick with it.
You’ll get more free stuff with your downloads: lyrics, videos, artwork and more.
More great music will become available for free thanks to ad supported sites like We7 and SprialFrog.
More bands will drop their record labels and go direct like Radiohead, The Eagles, Prince and others already have.
Music Trends to Watch in 2008
When it comes to music, 2007 saw many noteworthy trends transpire. Nineties nostalgia took over, with teen hipsters dancing to nu-rave, alternarockers rediscovering grunge, and hip-hop heads going 90s-style. MP3 players were embedded in more devices than ever, from new phones to shoes and sunglasses, giving teens the ability to share music at the drop of a hat (or mp3 player). Unauthorized downloading took a hit as torrent sites were closed, but exploded with more and more social networks connecting teens with hot singles, and new music blogs providing links to full album downloads. The combination of cheaper hardware and free music software meant that more music was created, letting teen tastes broaden and deepen in never-before-seen ways. More artists than ever took online distribution of their albums into their own hands. New software and MP3 player accessories gave teens more tools to DJ their own parties. iTunes entered the top 3 of music retailers. All the while, CD sales plunged further, though more teens took a newfound interest in vinyl LPs than they have for quite a while.
So what might we see in 2008?
More major, and possibly less-restrictive options for legal MP3s. Amazon.com got into the game in 2007, offering higher-quality downloads for a cheaper price than iTunes. At the same time, Amazon.com’s MP3s are not riddled with DRM software, which would otherwise restrict teens’ ability to play music on their MP3 player of choice. The kicker? While the technology is less restrictive, the user agreement is even more so, stripping users of the right to lend the files. Nonetheless, this signals an expansion of labels’ willingness to embrace digital music distribution. Whether this means we can look forward to a breakthrough licensing agreement for lendable MP3 files in the next 3-5 years is still to be determined.
More creator-owned and distributed content. Radiohead and Saul Williams were the big names in online album releases, offering up digital wares based on a pay-what-you-want model. With Radiohead touting a potential seven-figure sales revenue, lots of bands took notice, turning to Snocap as a way to sell their digital music without having to invest in a physical product or worry about label contracts. This “new breed of band” is rustling up teen fans by the thousands, simply by touring and promoting themselves through blogs and social networks. How can libraries plug themselves into this decentralized music network, providing access to teens without home broadband access or the funds to buy MP3s?
Library as music venue. Over the last few years, wizard rock established libraries as a vibrant and viable touring network. Now that the books are over, and wizard rock’s lost some of its luster, libraries need to think about how to expand as a venue for live music. Lots of artists are finding all-ages venues in short supply, as more and more bands are forced to hustle their way through an overcrowded touring market (not to mention the police crackdowns). The library can fill this gap by offering itself as a venue for motivated touring and local artists, through such websites as Book Your Own Fucking Life! and Band Command.
Streaming live performance. With the proliferation of broadband access, teens are ripe to not just download music, but to also watch it unfold. Teens can now tune into streaming live concerts from all over the world using NowHound (like TV guide for live online concerts, currently in private beta) or by checking out the archives at Fabchannel (from Paradiso and Melkweg Amsterdam, including indie rock, hip-hop, and experimental music for older teens). SyncLive not only lets teens watch live and archived performances, but also gives them the tools to stream their own. This means that your broadband-equipped library can not only offer itself as a venue for streaming concerts, but also showcase its own live performances and programs.
More sound everywhere. More and more teens will be using portable handheld devices (like cell phone speakers, Blackberries, or MP3 capable video game systems) to share music out loud with friends. This means that your library needs to consider how you can give teens space to share these experiences with friends. We might consider teen spaces within teen spaces, paying more attention to acoustics when doing redesign, or creative sound dampening solutions that allow teens to experience audio information socially, as they want it, without affecting those who don’t. Advertisers are catching on that experiencing information “out loud” is how they’re going to grab attention. Just take a look at the recent “audio billboard” controversy. What if teens could plug their devices into this hyper-sonic sound technology (HSS) to listen to music at your library? What if you had these devices creating a “sound map” to showcase music or audiobooks in your library? It may be pricey now, but as with most technology, it will be more widely available soon enough to think about.