Music Distribution: The Next Generation

Lo-Fi songs for a pittance

By , Columnist

Life travels pretty fast. Technology even faster. Musically, we've had myriad formats that have brought the cathartic powers of sound into our lives. Vinyl, the most resilient format of them all, has been there from the beginning of recorded music. It's still here. Vinyl has its sound advantage adherents with much of the music found on it recorded in good old analog (as it's played, it's captured, and played back the same).

vinyl-records.jpgTape soon became affordable and portability of your choice of music became a reality. At that point, radio began its slow death march toward obscurity. Radio, up to the advent of tape, had been the primary portable carrier of music. Its problems were that much of the music played wasn't your choice. Sure, you loved a lot of what you heard, but no one was 100% satisfied with the play list.

cassette-1.jpgTape soon gave way to the compact disc, which seemed to kill the vinyl format (although, we now know, years later, that the CD merely slowed it to a crawl). But the CD soon caught the digital disease by way of the virulent spread of file-sharing programs initiated by Fanning's runaway hit, Napster. The digital format that was birthed by the labels in a timely method designed to bring clarity and superior portability to the consumer, will likely end up being the probable method of the labels' own impending demise as a physical means of delivering music.

CDs-compact-discs-shiny-side-refracting-light.jpgDistribution of music is what drives the market these days, not format. From the rapid adoption of low-resolution MP3s to their accepted sales through outlets like iTunes, Amazon, and other digital malls, music distribution has been focused on selection and location playback. The primary key is access to the largest pool of music possible. CDs have become too limiting. The ubiquitous iPod was largely the chosen, cool device to playback your songs. But suddenly, even the mighty iPod seem to be showing signs of aging. The phone is finally finding its place as the new player. And what will feed that device are streaming services like Spotify, and Rhpasody.

Spotify, and Rhapsody have worked hard to deliver satisfying experiences. With access to millions of songs, suddenly the consumer is empowered to listen to a massive library of tunes that doesn't need to be individually purchased. Using Spotify,'s selectable plans, one can opt for a free account that will allow access to the complete library but restrict use to the PC or Mac as well as subject listeners to advertising that stops a song from playing in order for you to listen to the ad. A modest upgrade that charges $4.99 a month eliminates the ads but still restricts to the PC or MAC. The sweet spot is the $9.99 monthly fee that will allow a music fan to listen to unrestricted streams with no advertising and allows streaming to your phone. Heaven. There are several other important streaming services as well that include not only Rhapsody, but the de-clawed Napster, just to name a few.

digital music.jpgStreaming services will experience growing pains. There is a growing desire for higher sound resolution in music. With carrier-imposed caps on data transfer, the needed larger swarms of 1s and 0s pushing through the pipes means that caps will be reached early in the month for heavy data users. This slows down the growth for better services, which may be the actual intent of the providers anyway because slow innovation maintains the working status quo. Eventually, that restriction will need to be addressed.

The bloodied killing fields are littered with old technologies. Music has come a long way. With access to music being the king of services, streaming appears poised to be the new method of distribution. You don't need to have storage space, it's stored for you, accessible at your demand. Checking out new music is easy because new music is immediately uploaded to the streaming service for your playback. You only need to be concerned with ponying up the small monthly fee. Do that and much of the world's music is yours to listen to.

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Matt Rowe began his life with an AM radio, listening to anything that was considered music. Since, he has labored intently to build a collection of music, paring it down, rebuilding, and refining as he sees fit. His decided goal is to keep up with new music by panning for the nuggets among literal mountains…

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