According to Steve Jobs people still want to own their music. Lately I’ve been asking both friends and strangers if they really want to own music, and I have to say that I’m not sure about if Mr. Jobs is right, at least not for much longer. In fact I think he knows that he is wrong, but he won’t admit that for a while…
It seems as if we’re in some sort of transition period regarding ownership of music today. My impression is that people, at least in countries where mobile broadband has really started to take off, e.g. the Nordics, have started to realise that what’s important no longer is owning music, but owning access to it. And I think we are nearing a tipping point in this matter.
Many friends of mine have been managing their own growing digital collections of music for quite some time now. A few years ago, the amount of data and files the average music “enthusiast” had to manage passed the point where a database model for organizing files started to make more sense than simply dropping files in folders on the filesystem. iTunes emerged as one of the best music library managers out there, with its great handling of searching, playlist tools, and more. Most people I know with large collections of music moved to iTunes, or similar systems.
To date, these people still “own” their music, at least if you define ownership as including stolen goods. After all, about 99% of my friends’ huge harddrives are filled with illegally downloaded music…
So, how many people have digital collections of music these days? Quite a few I’m sure, but my mother, who is a professional musician, certainly does not. She got an iPod not too long ago, but when I showed her how to convert her CD:s into digital files she realised immediately that it would take her far too much time and effort to convert her gigantic CD collection into an iPod-friendly format. It didn’t help when I told her she had to be careful managing the massive amounts of data this would result in, or else her collection could vaporize! Laptop drives do crash, music collections with hundreds of hours of work and years of collecting material behind them do vanish into thin air every now and then. This already happened to a good number of friends, and to myself. Have I learned anything? Do I keep a backup these days? No. Shame on me.
So, why do almost every music lover I know have their own mp3-libraries still? And, more interestingly, why do the non-techy, non-music nerd people I know increasingly listen to music through services such as YouTube and Last.fm with the amount of music sitting on their harddisks actually declining?
I think I know why. Managing your own music collection in a digital world really only means securing access. Hence it’s not really about owning, but owning the access to a certain set of files. It’s your own little realm in the giant p2p net.
What’s becoming increasingly clear is that the managing of your music collection can be outsourced. In other words, you don’t have to keep your own collection of music these days, somebody else can do it for you. It’s actually a rather old idea, but it’s finally becoming a reality. And the people with other things on their minds than just music are “leapfrogging”!
It takes quite a bit of time to manage your own music library, and it’s risky too. That’s why this only makes sense if you have enough time on our hands devoted to collecting music. If you don’t, it is much more rational to outsource.
What if you could keep your iTunes-like interface and still have access to the playlists you so tediously put together over the years? The answer is: you can.
How, you ask? Spotify is part of the answer. It is the slickest application for managing your music (yes, it’s still your music) I’ve seen so far. And yet there’s no music on your harddrive, all of it sits on Spotify’s servers. And it’s legal. A search for Michael Jackson yields his entire catalog. Pick and choose the songs you need for your playlist. Hit play, and the song starts playing immediately. Believe it or not, it feels faster than iTunes.
Get an early beta account if you can. You’ll be blown away.
What one realises when the file managment/ownership issues are out of the way is that the only really important things are your playlists. What songs do you listen to and in what combination and when? And you also begin to see that there are lots of possibilities to evolve music listening now that your music collection lives on the web, side by side with all your friends’ collections. That brings me to what we’re doing at SoundCloud, the company I’m starting, but this post is already too long! So I will have to promise you to talk more about that in the next post.