The State of the Arts – In the Cloud and At Home

Since I started these blogs about a year ago, it has occurred to me on multiple occasions that if I was going to write about the Celestial Jukebox, then maybe I should undertake a serious survey of all the various services that lend themselves one way or another to that appellation.  Little did I know just how big the job that would have been – had I actually pursued it.  Now I know.

Thanks to a very comprehensive survey that has been conducted by the good digital folks at The Guardian, we can compare more than a dozen different streaming audio services, aka “music in the cloud:”

Click The Image to See the Whole Chart

It is interesting to note that this survey doesn’t even include the “internet radio” (an oxymoron if there ever was one) sites like Pandora, Slacker, last.fm, etc.  that offer “push” modeled delivery — i.e. you make one choice, and then the service decides what you hear after that. I’m actually rather surprised to discover that there are so many “pull”-modeled services, where everything is delivered entirely “on demand.”

Whatever you want to hear, whenever you want to hear it… and now — thanks to the proliferation of mobile devices and streaming service apps — pretty much, wherever you are.

Which brings me to a couple more items under this general heading….About the same time The Guardian published the Celestial Jukebox chart, Tom Silverman was welcoming the multitudes to the New Music Seminar in NYC with this chart:

If this was a stock chart, the message would be "sell"

…while ironically saying that:

“More people are engaged with music than ever before,” said Tom Silverman, founder of Tommy Boy Records and the New Music Seminar. “It’s a hockey stick going up; it’s an incredible opportunity that so far has eluded us.”

While the chart would seem to belie the sentiment, I don’t actually disagree with the statement at all.  The chart only illustrates the trend of physical music (i.e. CD) sales.  The reality that Silverman infers is that people have found myriad ways of finding and listening to music besides buying plastic wafers.   And I don’t mean illegal downloading or file sharing.  The first chart tells us that they’re finding it “in the cloud” in quantities that we’re only beginning to find ways of measuring.

The NMS report ends with this summary of the trends:

And in a sign of just how much the Web has impacted music, Silverman told the crowd that Pandora now represents 1.7% of all radio listening–really a shocking figure to think about. Obviously, traditional music media is going away. But is the music industry ready for the change?

I don’t know about “the music industry” (I actually hate that expression, because the whole concept of an “industry” is just so 19th century, but I digress…) but I’m sure ready for the change.  In fact, I’ve already made the switch. Which brings me to the final subject of today’s lengthy post.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but here at Chez Schatzkins, we’ve converted our primary music source from radio and CDs to “cloud” sources.

The transition started when a not really old-enough-to-die FM/CD player we kept in our living room decided to die anyway.  Only instead of replacing it with another radio-and-record player, we decided instead to get a really cool product from Griffin Technologies called the “Evolve” – which is an industrial-strength iPod/iPhone dock with two wireless speakers that we can put anywhere in the house:

The Griffin Technologies "Evolve"

The Evolve is cool in its own right, but what makes it downright revolutionary is what sits in the center.  In this case, it’s the iPhone 3G that I decided not to discard after I got the iPhone 4 a few weeks ago.  Instead, I reset my old 3G to the factory settings, upgraded the OS to the new iOS4, and then started downloading radio and and music-on-demand apps.  Behold the new center of our home audio system:

iPhone 3G Audio Apps

That’s like 5 “internet radio” (there’s that oxymoron again) services, two streaming music subscription services (I haven’t decided yet if I like MOG.com or Rdio.com better…) – and a lowly “iPod” app that I haven’t even used yet – because there is SO much music available now through all these apps, there is no reason to limit myself to the relatively tiny selection I have in my own iTunes collection.

And today I took the bold step of taking a paid subscription to Pandora One, for the colossal price of $36/year. The primary advantage to the paid version, aside from the absence of advertising (always a good thing), is that I don’t have to worry about the service cutting off after I’ve been listening for a while.  It will now play for as long as I want it to.

After I paid for the subscription, I got a “personal” message of gratitude from Pandora founder Tim Westergren.  OK, I know it wasn’t personal, but it was still a bit of a kick for some reason.  So I forwarded it to some of my music-biz friends here in Nashville along with the statement that “between Pandora and Rdio (or MOG), I can get pretty much all the music I need for $156/yr.”

One of the recipients of that daring assertion was Billboard writer Glenn Peoples – an observer who does his homework and has a very insightful perspective on the business.  Glenn wrote back, “Pandora has less than 1MM tracks. Rdio has huge holes in its catalog. Congrats if that’s all the music you need. It doesn’t come remotely close to what I need.”

Glenn is right, of course.  There are still great limitations to what is available “in the cloud,” and I will always continue to purchase “souvenir CDs” from artists when I attend a show.

What I really should have said in my first message is that, with this combination of gizmos and “cloud services, “I can get pretty much all the music I need TO PAY FOR for $156/yr.”

Now, let’s see how the “industry” is going to thrive on that.



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Paul S