The way we store and access information is taking a new direction. Instead of having to store all our files and software directly on the hard drive of our computers, we can upload them to the internet where they are kept on servers around the world, accessible on-demand wherever we can get an internet connection. This new paradigm shift in computing, referred to as the cloud, has ramifications for the way we listen to music as well. Listeners have access to what some have called the great jukebox in the sky, as streaming music services like Rhapsody, Pandora and Last.fm allow them to listen to whole libraries of songs at their convenience and largely for free. In the past few decades, music consumption has become increasingly digital; moving from storage on audio cassette to CDs to mp3 music players to hard drives. Will owning physical copies of music become a thing of the past? Is this move to solely cloud-based music consumption a close reality? And if so, will a music industry built on the sales of songs and albums have a place somewhere in this new world of on-demand music streaming?
In hope of finding the answers to some of these questions I turn to, of course, the internet. A topic as current as this likely has little in the way of published books, but at the same time I’m looking for analysis more reputable than opinion blog posts on tech and music websites. What I discovered was musically.com, a UK-based music consultancy website that provides current information on digital music. The company performs and compiles case-studies on the music industry and music consumption, does analysis of the market and consumer behavior and, most importantly, hosts archives of all of their data and reports on their website. And by signing up to one free two week trial, I can peruse them.
The March 4, 2010 report contained an article about a study done by NPD, a market research group. They claimed that from 2008 to 2009, on-demand streaming lead to a 13% decrease in paid music downloads by users. This information is very relevant to my topic and could prove to be a key statistic. If I had access to only this NPD study I might be inclined to believe that digital music is taking a big hit from on-demand music in the cloud. However, since I have access to the MusicAlly archive, I can take a look at other statistics they publish for confirmation of this hypothesis. Also on the site archive are the results from the IFPI 2009 Digital Music Report which claims that the paid-for downloads of single tracks rose 10% globally. This data runs counter to my hypothesis formed based on previous data and suggests that finding an explanation for both statistics requires a more nuanced understanding of digital music consumption which is what I hope to develop through this project. Having all of these studies in one place is a great resource that helps advance toward this goal.
If anything, the existence of a consultancy company like MusicAlly that purely focuses on digital music highlights the importance that digital music has in today’s society and economy. Gaining some understanding of the important factors involved and the direction that music is exactly the goal of their clients including Apple, MTV, Universal Music, and most recently, me.
Jake Smith, Class of 2012, Stanford University