Your music collection is too big

Music sites that claim to have “everything” don’t.

I’ve read as many accounts of cloud music services as I could find. People generally report they have tracks you can’t get online and each service has 80% or less of the tracks they want. My experience with iTunes Match backs this up.

When music biz experts debate which music streaming service is the next big thing they’re missing the obvious fact that none of them are.

If you’re under 25 and like only chart music from the last 10 years you’ll have better luck. Most music buyers have an album collection of around 100 titles (at 25 it would be more like 50) but people who are into music have broader taste and much bigger collections.

The debate about music streaming solutions isn’t for fans with 1,000 albums who spend their time looking for new music. It’s all about the mainstream. You might think music industry experts would be talking about services for the biggest customers instead of the most customers. Opinion formers and early adopters must look elsewhere. This innovation isn’t for them, it’s for people who don’t want much.

History repeats… a bit

There was a gold rush in new music media—new startups appeared almost weekly and patent disputes broke out. Even though the new kid in town spent more time in court than developing the product buyers couldn’t get enough music players and content. This was before World War One—the flat disc was replacing the recordable cylinder.

Berlinner accumulated many patents but history suggests his success was down to ease of manufacture (stamping), flat storage, and louder playback without amplification. (Amplification didn’t hit the mainstream until 1925, the disc was launched 30 years earlier.)

The current music format upheaval is different and although history doesn’t repeat exactly it probably has something to tell us. When Berlinner launched the disc in 1895 he laid the foundations for today’s record industry and defeated the incumbent. Edison made his cylinders until 1929 but never came close to retaking the recorded music industry he had started. Perhaps he hoped amplification would redress the balance but in the 1930s half of all American record production went into jukeboxes where once again discs ruled. However, there is a more important winner in this story—the customer.

The cylinder was perhaps more capable than the early disc, it was recordable and Edison had the resources, a killer brand and marketing power. Nevertheless customers chose the disc, decisively. It’s futile to second-guess the customer, they choose what they want.

In the late 1990s, faced with a new format (MP3) they didn’t control, Berlinner’s descendants made a series of attempts to regain the upper hand. But customers didn’t like what was offered. DRM on downloads, DRM on CDs, Major label web stores, subscription streaming… the verdict of the public has been decisive. Music distribution today can be summed up under 4  headings—CD sales, download sales, file sharing and radio. Overwhelmingly that’s what people want. Of the 2 billion online we know around 1 billion will be music customers. 900 million of them don’t use a big label streaming service and of the 100 million who do less than a quarter pay.

The evangelists of music streaming commerce—who have flogged this particular horse for over a decade—have made little headway. They tell us people “prefer access to ownership”, but quite clearly they don’t. We are told it’s early days but it isn’t—it was early days in 1995 when MP3 became available to everyone with a telephone line. There must be a point when it’s obvious streaming doesn’t sell. For me it was iTunes outselling all the streaming services overnight… in 2003. The Major labels will catch up one day, maybe.

The music conference treadmill

Midem, SXSW, ReThink Music, The Great Escape, Music Connected… there seems to be a music industry conference every week. Why do they invest so much time when the big labels seem to be in a terminal decline?

Maybe that is why. Last year half a billion dollars was invested in music start-ups, mainly on the Internet. It’s clear that some people—and a great deal of money—still has faith in the music industry.

Nobody is speaking at all these conferences or investing all that money to join the big labels’ nosedive. They clearly believe there’s a commercial future in music and they aren’t fazed by the fact that multi-millionaire label managers have no idea what it is.

The endless chat goes round in circles but there are still things to talk about. Nobody has really come up with a music application that uses the potential of the Internet, even though Spotify and Facebook are getting attention.

Spotify is still a jukebox—monthly subscriptions are 10 years old, the 15 million track catalogue is almost that old and jukeboxes are a hundred years old. Facebook, far from being the ultimate social music platform, is barely even listening to what musicians or their fans really want. And that is why neither is having much success. In spite of all the talk.

But somebody will.

When reporting sucks

Music:)Ally is often pretty good. But not always.

“You can imagine that when Spotify first launched, it sent a lot of people in the music industry into panic mode – ‘Let people stream stuff? Just madness!’,” said Smernicki at today’s Guardian Changing Media Summit, where he was speaking in a digital music panel session.”

This whole post (and it goes on in some detail) is big label PR. An advertisement. A eulogy to big labels and the kind of streaming they like, straight from their megaphone to us. Reporting press statements is just not good enough, there are times when a music biz site really must make a comment on what it publishes, otherwise it’s just a billboard.

Here’s the context their reporter didn’t know, or didn’t include.

Spotify launched in 2008. Rhapsody, which has as many subscribers as Spotify in the USA was launched in late 2001. That’s right, for 7 years people subscribed to a streaming service before Spotify launched—10 years before Spotify launched in the USA. Yet we are asked to believe that “when Spotify first launched, it sent a lot of people in the music industry into panic mode”.

It did not. It could not. It’s not all that anyway.

The only people in the music industry who ever gave a toss were the Major labels. They are investors in Spotify. They dictated the terms of the USA launch. Rob Wells, the digital guru at UMG, is fully behind Spotify to an embarrassing degree. There was no panic. Ever. They licensed Rhapsody 10 years previously!

So why does Music:)Ally serve up this blow by blow look-at-me pitch from the record industry without qualification or comment? Quality control? Gullibility? Star struck? Who can tell, but I doubt their paying readers were very impressed.