I had dinner a couple of weeks ago with a gentleman who is considered
to be one of the foremost experts on how the Internet will affect the
future of the music business. Nice guy. Very smart guy. But smart as
he is, he's wrong about one thing.
of the future goes something like this; First, bandwidth (the amount
of data that can be shoved through a wire, or a channel on a satellite)
will increase rapidly. He's right about that. You don't need to be a
rocket scientist to figure that out. It's already happening. Cable companies
are starting to give people high speed access to the Internet. A new
technology called DSL is making it possible for high speed connections
through the phone lines you already have in your home.
also includes some really big, fat wires (the backbone), carrying dizzying
amounts of data. As that happens, Moore's law kicks in, and the price
of high-speed access will drop dramatically. Agreed.
As the entrees
hit the table, my dinner companion continued. He thinks that the increased
bandwidth will make it possible for consumers to get music on demand.
In other words, any song you want, at any time you want. I think he's
right. That could very well result in the de-commoditization of music.
At present, music is something you buy to own. But why physically own
it if you can just "get" it any time you want it? Sounds believable,
the part that had me wondering if my dinner companion had a couple too
many olives in his martini. He's convinced that as bandwidth becomes
cheaper and more available, the supply of music will become almost infinite.
Okay, we're seeing evidence of that now. He thinks that as that happens,
"the filter on the front end of the pipe will disappear, and be transplanted
to the back end."
Let me translate.
He's saying that as the music industry exists right now, record companies
act as front-end filters, bringing consumers only the music that the
labels feel has a high probability of commercial success. That's understandable.
They have a finite amount of resources, and can't afford to sign everything
under the sun. After all, they're in business to make a profit.
that the public will become the so-called filter when any and all music
is available to all people. I can hear the cheering now. "No more A&R
weasels deciding if the public gets to decide if they like my music!"
"No more radio programmers pushing that crap down the throats of the
American public!" Understandable feelings.
How many hours of television do you watch during a given week? How many
of those hours are spent watching the Public Access channel? Not Public
Television (Sesame Street, Barney, et al). I'm talking about Public
Access, the channel that the FCC mandates for all common cable carriers.
You know the
channel I'm talking about. You've probably eliminated it from your TV's
channel memory, and long forgotten that it even exists. It's the channel
that any nutball can go on to express his or her religious or political
views. I've seen really bad singer-songwriters standing in front of
a microphone singing really terrible songs. I've seen really terrible
modern dancers. I've seen ranters and ravers. But I don't remember ever
making it through more than a couple of minutes of "programming." Have
a moment and admit to ourselves that the "unfiltered" world of entertainment
may only be entertaining because it's so unbelievably bad. It's a curio
that quickly grows tiresome.
doubt that we like choice. But we're picky. We only want to choose from
the best. Humans of all shapes, sizes, colors and creeds like quality.
While the record companies may over-filter, filters still appear to
Which of these
would you choose? Getting in your car and having an unlimited number
of radio stations to choose from that all have unfiltered music ranging
from absolutely terrible to sure-fire hits, or an unlimited number of
stations that are aggregated by genre or mixed genres, and play music
that ranges from possible hits to sure-fire hits? Unless you're a masochist,
the latter seems to be the wise choice.
Who would have
the time or patience to listen to thousands of mediocre or terrible
songs to find the hidden gems?
Part of what
will make the future of music more interesting is that narrowing the
focus while giving more choice will only be a good thing for music makers
and music buyers. If you love ukulele music, you'll be able to find
it at ukulele music.com. If you like bagpipes, you'll be able to quickly
find the digital station that features them. If you're frustrated that
no record companies will sign, and no radio stations will play your
gothic flute music, lament no more. Big, fast digital pipes that foster
the growth of tiny little niches are coming our way soon. And I see
that as a very good thing for all of us.
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