Music in the cloud: How does the internet change the way we listen?

This entry is part of my research project for the class of Networked Rhetoric at Stanford University. For more information, click here.

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

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This entry was posted in CCR exchange: Student Research, Stanford Networked Rhetorics class. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Music in the cloud: How does the internet change the way we listen?

  1. ccrvisitor says:

    My major concern with your source called MusicAlly is simply the fact that you only have a two-week trial of it. True, there are only four or five weeks left in the quarter anyway. But you will have to carefully plan when you choose to take that trial, and use your time really effectively during those two weeks if you want that to serve as your primary source.

    As to whether or not the music industry will have a place in a cloud-based music streaming world, there are a couple of things I would consider. Firstly, there are laws in effect, though not at all well-enforced. This does, however, give people a sense of morality when it comes to downloading music. A perhaps more influential draw towards paying for tracks is the fact that some people really want to support certain artists, whether it be for their philanthropy or their virtuosity. Could musicianship as a popular profession really stand in a society with no music purchases? Could another T-Pain even exist? As for moving away from a physical media form, I think the music industry has proven quite well that they are able to make serious amounts of money selling digital information in the form of songs, it simply becomes a matter of different marketing and software. And what about the idea of nostalgia? After all, in Mika’s relatively new music video called “We Are Golden,” Mika is seen dancing around to his song playing on a cassette. Will people want to hold on to these forms of media for the quality of sound and the culture that surrounds them? The vinyl record is perhaps a better example. My roommate went into this topic a little bit for her PWR class about music, you may want to talk to her!

    –Luisa Russell

  2. ccrvisitor says:

    Jake,

    That’s great that you found such a useful source, and it sounds like you’ve already found some really helpful information. The 13% decrease is a number that doesn’t surprise me, but the 10% increase is one that does. I also wonder what accounts for the difference in reported figures? Maybe U.S. vs global statistics? And it’s great that the reports are so recent; you can definitely be sure that your topic is relevant and up to date. The idea of “cloud-based music” is also an interesting concept, that sourcing music has become this amorphous thing. It’s a neat image.

    Overall, it sounds like you’re really interested in this topic, so I’ll be curious to see the final result!

    Yoshika

  3. ccrvisitor says:

    Hey Jake,

    I think your topic has a lot of potential. You ask some interesting questions that could lead to an awesome paper. The statistics you mention near the end of your post are quite interesting. It’s great that you already understand that the explanation of the data is probably quite nuanced. If I had to take a stab at an explanation, I would say that the phrase “single tracks” is important here. It seems very possible that there has been an increase in the number of single tracks purchased, while complete album sales have faltered, thus leading to a 13% overall decrease in music downloads. Just a thought. You might also want to look into how digital streaming is affecting how people listen to music. Definitely talk to Professor Jonathan Berger. He has all kinds of insight into this stuff. Here’s his profile link.

    http://humanexperience.stanford.edu/subj-cognitivescience?q=berger

    Check out the section “Professor Berger in the News.” There’s articles there about some of the questions you’re asking. Hope this helps. Good luck with your research!

    David Kravitz

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