The cloud; not just for work, but also for play. Music from the cloud has been steadily growing in popularity in recent years, to the point now where even Apple is getting in on it with iTunes Radio. Many camps consider it to be the future of how we listen to music, but we're not there yet. Not even close. There's a whole myriad of reasons as to why, and no matter how much we want it right now, it just isn't viable right now to go all-in with a streaming service.
Labels and rights holders hold the key
There's no better example of this than our buddy Jerry Hildenbrand of Android Central's experience just this week with Google Play Music, and the Iron Maiden collection in his All Access locker that had suddenly vanished:
Content providers, fix your shit. Deliver the stuff people want to the people who want to pay for it, or we'll steal it. It ain't rocket science.
The music industry is tightly controlled by the labels and the rights holders to the music you want to listen to. The same music by the same band is still available on All Access here in the UK, yet in the U.S, it's gone. It's a sucky licensing agreement that ultimately just harms the people who matter the most; music fans. The music fans who are quite happy to pay for a service when they could easily go out and steal the same music.
It isn't just Google, of course, anyone who sells music – either track by track or for streaming – is subject to licensing agreements with the labels. It's what reportedly almost held up the launch of iTunes Radio, it's what's keeping iTunes Radio explicitly available in the U.S. at the moment, and it's why Google, Spotify, Rdio, Pandora and the like aren't available in all of the countries, in all of the world. It sucks. Musicians deserve to get paid, absolutely, but these services aren't like Napster all those years ago. They're not providing you with stolen music. So, why does it have to be so hard?
Deals are tough to make, we're the ones who miss out
It's a contentious issue, but with licensing agreements comes cold, hard, cash. Pandora's founder, Tim Westergren, claims that for 1 million spins of any particular song, they pay out around $1,370. Whether that's a lot or a little, isn't something I particularly want to get into. But, just as important as licensing out the music, is how much money is going to be exchanged for that license. Consumers don't really care, they just want to listen to music. But money makes the world go round, and because licensing agreements and royalty payment deals are so tough to put in place, there will always be catalog gaps in the streaming space.
Going all streaming on mobile isn't practical
I'm fortunate, I have a truly unlimited data plan with my carrier. As such, I never store any music on my iPhone, I get it all via Spotify. But even here in the UK, unlimited plans aren't at all common, even less so in other parts of the world such as North America. Without an endless bucket of data to get your music, it's a waste.
Sure, with many of the popular options such as Spotify and Google, you can cache music to your device to listen to offline. While this is handy if you're going abroad, or on a plane, in other words somewhere you will be temporarily without data, it defeats the object of having such a massive catalog at your disposal if you're still filling up your devices storage. Sadly, there's not a lot we can do about the carriers, but it definitely puts a downer on moving all-in on a streaming music provider.
The future looks bright, though
The future indeed does look bright. There's a heap of choice out there, and slowly but surely the bigger services are rolling out further and further round the globe. Pricing is competitive, and we've also got a range of services to cater to different tastes. iTunes Radio and Pandora are more like a traditional radio experience, whereas Rdio, Spotify and Google All Access have a massive library of albums for you to build playlists with.
And, despite licensing deals being a sticky point generally, artists are more and more so getting behind the streaming services. Spotify for example has this year added Metallica and the entire Pink Floyd collection to its library. There will always be gaps, but they're closing up all the time.
And, let's not forget the sheer number of places we can get our music these days. On our iPhone, iPad and iPod touch – or indeed any smartphone or tablet, generally – Mac, Apple TV, Windows PC, Linux, games consoles, Smart TV, even in the car, the list is growing all the time. Digital music was the first industry changer, and eventually, streaming music will be the next.
So, that's what I think, but what about you? Where do you stand on the idea of the music streaming model? Is it something you're already invested in, or is there something that fundamentally holds you back? Drop me a line in the comments!