All Music Technology Is Doomed

A rather clever and technologically-savvy group of people have set up a new blog called Music Think Tank. This group includes Derek Sivers, Bob Baker, Andrew Dubber and Bruce Warila, who are all active participants in the modern music world and frequently share industry insights on their own sites. This promises to be a stimulating collaboration, as evidenced by yesterday’s post on technology cycles…
(from Music Technology)

Technology Drives The Market

Mark Ramsey discovered an interesting illustration on the National Geographic site which illustrates the cyclical nature of recorded media in terms of units shipped over time. From 1967, the first year in which albums outsold singles, we can see that the popularity of various media formats waxes and wanes in a remarkably symmetrical fashion.

Units Shipped of Recorded Music

This chart doesn’t include pirated music downloads; however, it would be fair to assume that a significant increase in downloaded music kicked in around the time CD sales began to decline. This transition should be even more dramatic than the clear correlation between the demise of cassette singles and the rise of the compact disc illustrated here.

New Is Not Always Better

Although technology is always improving, new formats are rarely better in all departments. The key is whether a new format is better at doing the things that are most important to the consumer, and not significantly worse at things that are less important. I covered this issue in a previous post which outlined how important convenience is as a driver of new technologies.

On this note, I would have to disagree with Mark’s statement that “CD’s are unambiguously better than tapes”; it’s just that tapes weren’t better in any ways that were important to consumers at that time. Tapes are more robust than CDs; I still have loads of tapes that play perfectly well, but plenty of CDs that became unplayable within a few months under the same usage conditions. A few more admirable qualities of cassettes can be found here. However, the random-access features, sound quality and shiny, shiny discs were more than enough to convince people that CDs were the future.

Nowadays, people are listening to a lot of music as mp3s. This is a format that has a lower sound quality (often horrifically lower) than the compact disc, yet seems destined to consign its circular predecessor to the land of the 8-track – by the year 2015 if the graph holds. Convenience is the driver of the transition here; and the think tank thinks that the future of music will be laden with advertising as a result.

Making Money From Free Music

It’s hard to tell how music monetisation will be applied when recorded music is effectively free; however, it seems that the ones making the most noise about music piracy are the ones who are earning a living from other people’s music.

People still buy music; people still go to concerts. If you have fans, you will have to sell your music directly to them, and learn how to do that effectively. There will be less headroom for making money on recorded music for people who aren’t musicians; marketers, executives and lawyers will have to work much harder to get a slice of talented musicians’ revenue streams from now on. If new music technologies allow more musicians to earn a modest income from selling their own stuff directly, then I won’t be too worried that the CEO of EMI has to drive last year’s car for a while…


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