The new world order of music

Tech journo Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla reflects on the evolution of the music industry alongside the advancement of technology.

Before I focused on covering the technology beat, I was a music reviewer and critic, and I have been a music lover and collector ever since I can remember. Like most mediums, music has been greatly transformed in the past 20 years.

I remember when FM radio was the great music discovery tool. It was where you heard new songs and musicians first, and then you went on to buy a single or an LP record (long playing), or a cassette tape if you preferred that. _

From analog to digital

Today, music streaming services have taken over the role of music discovery, delivery, and point of sale terminals. You can use a service like Apple Music or Spotify to find new music and artists, and if you are a paid subscriber, you can carry that song or album on your mobile device and play it anywhere you want. If you really want to buy the song, there are dozens of online services that will sell it to you, and you can ‘own’ the song or album within minutes (depending on how fast your internet connection is). This is the way music is promoted, distributed, or sold, and it is ideal for a whole new generation of users who have never bought a CD or a record because to them music is nothing more than a digital file. _

Wi-Fi music

I recently got my first Sonos wireless speaker second hand, a first-generation Play 5 model. This speaker runs on my home Wi-Fi and accesses my Spotify playlists directly as well as whatever music I have stored in my hard drives or connected mobile devices. Sonos speakers really complete the circle of how music is now consumed. While these speakers have a line in that can take a CD player or iPod, the real magic happens through apps that access music services. Most music streaming services can be accessed via the Sonos app, which then controls the speakers. Being Wi-Fi-enabled speakers means that Sonos has better range and can stream higher quality file that sound as good as CDs. I use Spotify, Google Play Music, and Tidal’s streaming services, and found that they are seamlessly connected to Sonos’ app. The ease of finding and playing music is outstanding. I like to listen to jazz and classical while working and using Spotify’s curated playlists. I can always find the right music for the right mood. If I’m starting to feel drowsy and need to pick up my pace of work, I can play some lively alternative or even heavy metal to fuel me through the day. Google Play Music, which has absorbed Songza, now also offers a range of human-curated playlists plus some smart algorithmic playlist to suit every mood and moment. Google boasts 35 million songs in its library and Spotify has 30 million, which is really more than any one person would have in their collection. _

Appreciation vs convenience

There’s no arguing the ease and convenience of being able to access and enjoy almost any song your heart desires, and play it back on any device. Personally, I think this is a result of great innovation, although something is lost in the art of appreciating music. What I mean is, the whole concept of what a piece of music used to be: an album with artwork, lyrics, and the whole experience of unwrapping a vinyl record, cassette tape or CD, and really immersing oneself in all the aspects of the band, album, and individual songs. These days, we just get the song, maybe the lyrics and a small image, and most listeners are fine with that. _

The economics of play

What I wonder and worry about is how musicians profit from these new streaming services. I know they get paid very little for thousands of plays, which means it will take a lot for them to earn from their music. Many have taken to touring and selling merchandise to break even. But what other incentive do they have? Sadly, few artists are as influential as Taylor Swift or Adele who can choose to deny streaming services of their new album in favor of actual CD sales. The music industry is a prime example of how technology can take over and change a business for better or for worse. Music lovers now have unparalleled access to music for less than the price of a CD, and musicians have to find alternative ways to earn from their highly commoditized music creations. _

Words Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla First published in Speed January 2016

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *