Their repetition of the happiest, shallowest, or heartbreakiest anthems leaves little to salivate over for those who appreciate the darker, more complex themes of stranger music that radio ignores.
So, it’s a long and miserable eye-roller of a road without an auxiliary cable and smartphone — and for many, an endless, personalized playlist.
People crave their music. It is a force of mood, emotion, memory and connection. It keeps the world spinning. But the way that we consume, organize and share our music is rapidly changing in a whirlwind of controversy and indecision.
Apple revolutionized the music industry in 2001 with iTunes, a music player and marketplace that allows users to purchase music at 99 cents a song. Users hold their music collections in an almost limitless library — organized by artists, albums, songs and user-generated playlists.
This convention marked a transition in the public’s eyes over the nature of music ownership.
There used to be record collections. People still buy CDs when their favorite artists release new albums, But ownership has largely evolved into digital libraries on electronic devices.
Now, all that pride in owning media is slowly fading as new venues for collecting — not necessarily owning — music are on the rise and shaping the way we consume music and other media. The Internet has no single ownership, and offers unending access to the world of music where users can individually delegate their listening.
Back to the argument about radio, the format is essential. People want access to a variety of music that transitions agreeably without the need of user interaction — fumbling through playlists on your phone, for example, or changing CDs.
The emergence of three major music players have brought us to the brink of a sharp transition that has already changed our lives, and is changing the life of the music industry: Pandora Radio, Spotify, and recently iTunes Radio.
Pandora Radio allows users to freely access a vast realm of playlists associated with artists, genres and compilations with limited ads in-between plays. Using Pandora over the summer, I quickly found that its stations are repetitive. And although it can lead to new music discoveries, the threshold of discovery within your favorite playlists also has its limit, and the user thus still has to make most of the effort to broaden horizons and change things up.
Spotify takes on a similar role, offering free streaming with limited ads and its own varying playlists, but it takes this further by offering a monthly fee of $4.99 for the unlimited, uninterrupted package; or $9.99 a month for the premium package. Premium allows users to not only stream their music, ad free, wherever and whenever, but they can also download their music to their devices and create offline playlists, which serves as a pseudo form of music ownership, in accordance with their membership fee.
Recently, Apple retooled iTunes with iTunes Radio, which serves essentially the same purpose as Pandora and Spotify, but through the lens of iTunes. Apple recognized it needed this format to keep its head above water in the music industry, where it has held a place comfortably for the past decade.
Online music piracy has been a problem during all of this transition — but now that free streaming has become the acceptable future of music consumption, it should likewise serve as a combatant to piracy, which offers songwriters and performers nothing, whereas streaming services offer minimal royalties.
Daniel Ek, CEO of Spotify, told the L.A. Times: “My goal is to not just convert the 23 million into buying (a subscription). My goal is to get 1 billion using streaming services rather than a piracy service.”
This solution to piracy still does not create a solution for paying artists a fair cut of these streaming services’ profits. The overlaying issue with streaming is that there are no major earnings for artists who allow Spotify to play their music.
As Spotify grows, it will be able to contribute more of its annual revenue to artists. But this advancement is so limited and oblique that many contributors find this argument unconvincing.
Music piracy may see its extinction with the new free and subscription-based availability of a plethora of genres and artists to anyone with an Internet connection. But the industry, responsible for taking care of its artists, must change with technology and it must change with its listenership — not the other way around. Consumers are not going to be responsible for achieving that goal.
The industry should pressure streaming services to further support its artists, but recognize they are here to stay.
— By Alexander Sinn, Tribune community columnist