Will free music streaming destroy digital downloads?
Music has come a long way – from records to CDs, CDs to MP3s. But that’s all had one resemblance – we’ve had to buy it. Could internet services, like Spotify and Last.fm, destroy the need to pay for the music in your life?
I still have a cupboard packed with CDs at home (mostly David Bowie albums). They were bought to pop onto my computer and eventually onto my MP3 player (not an iPod I’ll have you know).
iTunes and other digital download services soon took over for many of us as we started purchasing music online, downloading songs straight to our computers.
This wasn’t necessarily a better solution, since MP3 sound quality is still struggling to rival CDs. Reader Mike agreed with this in our Conversation on physical media, saying that MP3 audio is a ‘great loss for hi-fi enthusiasts’.
But that’s by the by, as I’m now going to move onto what I think will rival the popularity of buying digital music – free and subscription internet services. These services, including Spotify and Last.fm, stream music over the internet when you want it and without the need to pay upfront.
Free music paid through advertising
Spotify lets you search for any artist you’d like, with their entire catalogue of tracks arriving in an instant. Well, I say entire catalogue – some albums, artists and music labels still haven’t agreed to be included on the service.
How does it make money? Through advertising – every five or so tracks there’s a not too intrusive sound-based ad. Plus, these can be banished with a subscription fee. I’m actually listening to Spotify as I write this and I can put up with the ads, though I’ll often pull my headphones out if they’re incredibly annoying.
It’s definitely a growing phenomenon. Spotify today revealed that its users rocketed from one to seven million in 2009. And although it may have lost £16.6 million during that year, its popularity is still growing incredibly fast.
Last.fm is a bit different – it suggests tracks you’ll like based on user votes – but the concept is the same. Music is streamed over the web, for free.
Could this be the future of music?
Why the hell not? The sound quality of Spotify’s premium service has been called superior to iTunes downloads by some, so that’s certainly not an issue. These services could even make a significant impact on illegal music pirating. Why illegally download a song when you can get it for free, in better quality, and legally, elsewhere?
Last.fm also features music from unsigned artists, giving them a cut of the advertising revenue, so it can help newbies get on the ladder.
Both services are also a godsend at parties, though you might have to put up with your friends constantly changing the playlist as they search for the tracks they like.
Will these internet music services kill off iTunes? No, but I do think their convenience, immediacy and cheapness will make a pretty hefty dent.
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