NME's deputy editor Luke Lewis published an interesting article about the future of digital music last week.
Lewis made a list of 10 insightful music predictions regarding what the developments of digital music might entail in 2011, and I've got to hand it to him, he did a great job and taught me a lot. But I've got some more commentary to add to his list of predictions.
1. Streaming will stop looking like the future.
In Lewis' opinion, streaming music for free through sites like Pandora won't be such a widely available option in 2011. Music streaming services never really made much money, if any at all. It turns out that free streaming isn't very profitable, which is why so many music streaming companies like Last.fm have been losing tons of money over the past few years...what a shocker. The United States hasn't generally welcomed the music service Spotify with open arms since American record labels are hungry for a payoff, as they should be. But if music streaming services were never particularly profitable, and there was never a big piece of the pie to claim as a competitive new music streaming service, then why do so many of those companies exist?
2. Piracy will flourish.
That's certainly not good. But Lewis is right: less legal free access to music will lead to more illegal downloading. As long as record industry executives can't figure out how to turn pirates into people who rightly pay, the music business is will still be going downhill as far as purchasing music goes.
3. Bands will stop using MySpace.
What?! No, never! Just kidding, I'm thrilled for this day to come. Can't bands just have their own websites rather than using a host website? It's not like 150 results for "Dave Matthews Band" will come up in a MySpace Music search, but this idea would help lesser known bands get found in searches more easily in my opinion. Lewis also points out that the direction of online music promotion is shifting from MySpace to Facebook. While that's not rocket science since social networking has already made a general shift from MySpace to Facebook, he's observant, and I think he's right: the number of bands putting themselves out there on Facebook is growing at a rapid rate. He also mentions a service for musicians called RootMusic, and man, it looks fantastic. RootMusic enables artists to pimp the hell out of their Facebook music page, sort of in the same fashion that MySpace used to, except it actually looks professional, classy and awesome, plus it fits in with the format of Facebook. The basic page model is free, and it seems really easy to set up. And... wait for it... RootMusic even provides royalties for artists. Jackpot.
4. Gig-going will become more social.
"But concerts are already a social activity," you're saying. Don't be too quick; Lewis has more to say than just that. He believes more people will use applications like FourSquare. I can't stand those services. They're creepy, and for some reason, people seem to think they're important enough that everyone should know where they are at all times. I don't give a crap that you're out at Jay-Z's show if I'm not there too. But dig this: Lewis introduces us to a website called Tastebuds, a dating site based on musical preferences. Considering that guys who don't know much about music substantially lose my interest, I initially wanted to know where has that site been all my life, but then I remembered that people's favorite artists are listed on their Facebook page. Tastebuds is still a cool concept though, and it could get more people to go to concerts, which would provide a small monetary boost for your favorite artists.
5. Google Music will arrive... and won't make much difference.
What the hell is Google Music, and why haven't I ever heard of it? Apparently Google is planning to launch a music store of their own, but, as Lewis points out, what's the point? iTunes has already conquered the music market and has had the upper hand for 10 years or so. But Google Music could be a great alternative option for anyone who doesn't care for iTunes. As for everyone else who is satisfied with using iTunes though, if you like iTunes then why make the switch to Google Music? As my dad always tells me, if it's not broken, don't fix it.
6. Corporate tie-ins will abound.
Some bands have been utilizing corporate partnerships to launch their music. Pamplamoose gained publicity by performing in holiday Hyundai commercials. San Francisco Weekly poses a great debate: is that sort of method great for getting your band name out there, or is it selling out?
7. Music videos will get more interactive.
My pick for the best music video of 2010 is customizable, which is fascinating, especially on the first run-through. Lewis says we'll probably see more of these types of music videos in 2011. I'd say this is a positive change. Here's to increased creativity by music video directors.
8. Fan-funding will go mainstream.
I don't see the idea of fan funding going very far. While the name-your-own-price model in regards to paying for albums seems to be effective, fan funding otherwise doesn't seem very realistic to me. Are people really willing to shell out money to help their favorite band make it big?
9. Music apps will suck less.
That's great news. The creators of music applications have been stepping up their game lately to the point where a band can play a gig on their iPhones like Atomic Tom did on a New York City subway. However, if music apps are already so good that a band like Gorillaz can make a sufficiently decent album on an iPad, then I don't see why music apps need to improve further.
10. Downloads will get cheaper.
Amazon often has music download deals in which an entire album can be downloaded for something like five dollars. They're selling some hit songs for just 69 cents too. Will lower download prices promote more sales, or will people only buy what they want or need and nothing else? Furthermore, what if digital downloads of full albums regularly start costing less?
So many aspects of the music industry are constantly changing. What's your take on the future of digital music in 2011?
While you're discussing, check out the future of music promotion via Facebook with a deeper look into RootMusic.