By Mike Bailey
I’ve been collecting records and compact discs for more than 30 years. I’ve given away more than I’ve kept, but I still have well north of 10,000 pieces. Whether my collection is impressive or indifferent, it pales in comparison to yours – that is, if you choose to access your collection.
You see, the music library that I’ve spent three decades building is less than 1% of what’s available on your laptop, tablet or phone. Music subscription services like Spotify and Rhapsody have changed how we interact with music; why own some music when you can have access to all music?
Would you budget $10 per month to buy one CD? How about $10 per month to have access to almost every album ever released? That’s the type of deal offered by many of today’s music subscription services and it’s a deal too good to pass up. Yes, you can still download music illegally and save the ten bucks, but once you start using these services the convenience far outweighs the cost.
Those of us that have picked a career in the media arts might scoff at subscription-based music, saying we are purists, choosing to ignore this fad because of audio quality. You’re allowed to have that view, but like it or not, access and convenience are important to mainstream consumers of media; for the masses, the question of mp3 versus wave quality audio is of little concern.
I’m not saying recording quality doesn’t count, and I don’t want to get side tracked by the argument that the masses want amazing audio quality, because they don’t – they are happy with their mp3’s. We’re a media school and we’re the type of individuals that want amazing audio quality, but we should understand where we fall in that argument, by and large we are the minority. You can argue that vinyl is the height of sound quality and that sales of LPs are booming, and I’ll agree, but realize they account for 2% of all music sold. That’s a 100% increase in sales over last year, which sounds good as a media bite, but doesn’t amount to much in the big picture. We should to be aware that many records are now being optimized for iTunes and ear buds.
Yes, I’m in that group that will continue to buy records and compact discs, and that might just mean I’m old, but I’ve fully embraced subscription via Spotify as I love its mobility and convenience. To be honest, I can’t wait for movies, books and video games to fully embrace subscription, as I have no interest in owning physical artifacts for any of these media forms. Why, because I’m a mainstream consumer of all these things, which is different than my relationship with music.
Media consumers demand more and having access to all media sure beats buying items one at a time. I’m writing this as a reminder that we all need to be responsive of our surroundings and grasp how media is being consumed, because it does effect how media is created. Traditionally the music industry has turned out full-length albums and shied away from singles and short form releases. That ideal is format driven, from the days of vinyl and compact discs, digital access allows artists and labels to release and promote individual songs the way they used to promote albums. How popular do you think the album format will be ten years from today?
So, if you have not done so, I recommend you keep an open mind and investigate the present state of music consumption through one of the following access points; Spotify, Rhapsody, Pandora, Rdio, Mog, Slacker. Most come with a free, introductory version that allows you to explore and discover. Some are pure players that require you to know what you’d like to hear (like a Netflix for music), others are formatted like radio where the listener picks a style of music as a reference point. I’d say the radio options are better for music discovery, but they lack the control of the traditional players.
I’ve purposely avoided the issue of royalty payments and what benefit the artist is seeing from subscription and online radio. That debate is wide ranging and needs time to play out. I do know that the last decade has been brutal for both record companies and recording artists and one would think that getting music fans to pay a monthly fee for music has to generate more income than allowing them to steal it. Access is the future, whether subscription based or some other form. It’s up to you how you choose to access that future.