Event Report @ SXSW: Wed 17th March – How Will We Listen to Music in 2020?
The future of the music industry has been painted in many ways by many people, some see it as a utopia of levies and “the cloud” and sharing and some see the industry barely existing. The uncertainty leaves many nervous about the future, so the panel “How Will We Listen to Music in 2020?” brought in experts from 3 different areas of the industry to discuss the issues and possibilities. The experts were Alexander Ljung CEO and founder of Soundcloud, Ben Perreau from music news solution site Gigulate and Steve Savoca from Domino Recordings. Jonas Woost, ex-Head of Music at Last.fm was the moderator.
Jonas thoughtfully segmented the discussions to the major areas of recorded music. After being away for the past 6 months he asked the panel to review what has been happening. In the past 6 months it’s gotten easier for big technology companies to get larger catalogues and for more services have a standard catalog. The controversial Digital Economy Bill has hung an ominous cloud over UK’s piracy battles. And subscriptions have fallen back in favor with the launch of MOG and of course Spotify still gaining ground. Finally, money is starting to come in from areas other than iTunes and the pie is growing for more indies.
The first discussion revolved around how we consume music and how that will change. Views on ownership are shifting not only in the sense of ownership versus streaming but also ownership of IP with new collaborative sites like Soundcloud. Alex being all for such collaborations brashly came out of the gate with “downloads are dead and downloads are stupid, ownership will be completely irrelevant”. He believes all significant music consumption will come from online and will be streaming in 2020.
Steve rebutted that if that happened no one at labels would have a job, including himself. He believes that participation and interaction will change but there will always be different environments that breed different formats rather than simply ‘online’ or ‘streaming’. “There will always be die hard vinyl fans, people that want hard-drives, CDs, streaming”. With the new streaming trend labels like Domino are losing a fair amount of business. Consuming music on the level we are with free accounts on Spotify, “we need to scale it or else we’ll do damage. There are too many people jumping from format to format…every download lost to streaming devalues it from 70 cents to 0.0000whatever”. He does believe those that the future will largely be about access and about the various packages in which we will access music, we will be able to consumer music “any way we want to”.
Ben came in and also refuted online streaming for the types that sometimes want to live off the grid. There needs to be “an amazing music listening system and filters that will apply uniquely to each person, which is nearly impossible” in order for everything to shift to online cloud services. To that Alex added in more accessibility (with mobile “4G, 5G, 8G” by 2020) and local caching. Also he praised the different sources of different catalogues which is only due to exponentially ameliorate. He also sees social filters becoming popular and sharing to be facilitated which would help with that.
Next topic was music recommendation issues. Ben lamented that few companies outside editorial are relevant and algorithms can only get you so far. Also with more online accessibility comes a new problem of “sifting through and sorting the noise sorting it into a way that we find the music that’s important”. Also music is useless without cultural significance and that in a way is losing out with the one “global village”. There even now is a need for a proper engine for discovery about music information, which sites like MOG are attempting to do, but it needs to be a lot more finely tuned by 2020.
Music formats became the next point of discussion…what is the next MP3? Steve had a fair bit of insight, working for a label and being subjected to countless presentations of “new industry-changing formats”. The main two Steve believed had a chance were MXP4 which is rumored to be what the iTunes LP/Cocktail project surrounds. It’s a new codec of highly interactive files, embedded in the files are widgets. RJDJ also was mentioned, which the app lets you add your own effects to music such as your environment, your voice, the traffic outside…but only a handful of artists are willing to do this.
Artistic resistance was the next logical topic. Many artists still believe their own art is getting devalued and these new apps that let you remix and change their ‘art’ is not welcome. Alex on the other hand working with Soundcloud members sees the opposite. He sees this breakdown in the future as “a promise that people will get more in to how music is made which will change how you make it”. Steve agreed “we have yet to see this generation that has grown up on these games [like Rock Band], it’ll affect how people compose music…it will all help the evolution and participation”.
Devices became the next subject and Ben sees the future as going in many directions. There will be convergence and less platforms but at the same time all tools will go mobile and broaden out to other devices as well, like the xbox. Alex focused on the need to make things more open, letting anyone build applications and audio recording devices, like Soundcloud are attempting to achieve. Stakeholders in labels have been dictating how technology can make music available which is a closed system usually and that should change by 2020.
Finally money came into play and discussions around how will artists and labels benefit from these developments financially. Steve said as a label there needs to be a scaled model that “50 million pay $5-10 a month for services having the full catalog and also still a need for retail”. He warned that such “whimsical listening what you fancy ends up taking out pay…Spotify could be the death of labels” but at the same time there are downstream effects of merch and tickets that come from these streams, although it’s hard to detect. He also believes there needs to be participation in other revenue streams from labels (so more 360 degree deals?) because they help build the brand and labels should be entitled to it. Alex put a more positive spin saying in the future online tools will increasingly cut costs to make music and statistics will only get better to help marketing, it’ll weed out bad services and there will be a more direct route to getting music out there. “Get the web to work for you” and integration with more companies will bring more opportunity for revenue.
The main thing to take from this is don’t judge too early. The way we consume and participate with music may change dramatically but with music being more social, that’s definitely a positive. Many areas still need improvement and transitioning into digital but many music start-ups are starting to gain presence and popularity in the mainstream and that will provide many opportunities for the industry.
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