Can web music survive?

By Jos
Feb 16, 2016
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  1. While no one would argue the Internet’s incredibly positive impact on so many aspects of our lives, it is interesting to see that long-held assumptions about it don’t always ring true. Take, for instance, the common notion that the web is the ideal distribution platform for all kinds of goods and services, particularly digital media. There’s an entire segment of the world’s economy, in fact, which is arguably based on that hypothesis.

    But several decades into the internet revolution, there seem to be several glaring cases where web-centric businesses based on these assumptions aren’t really living up to their potential—at all.

    One of the most obvious examples is music. For so many reasons and in so many ways, the distribution of music digitally via the web seems like a match made in heaven. Music plays an important role in most people’s lives—an extremely important role for some consumers—so there’s strong built-in demand, and the small size of digitized music files makes them seemingly easy to transfer via the enormous range of routes over which we now have access to the internet.

    And yet, here we are in 2016 with more news about the struggles of online music businesses than success stories to share. Market leaders Spotify and Pandora continue to lose money, as do players such as SoundCloud, and smaller services like Rdio and now MixRadio close on a frequent basis. Even the very biggest names in tech—including Apple and Google—have struggled to find a lasting, profitable business model for their large investments in digital music.

    While people acknowledge that there’s value in content, paying for that content alone doesn’t seem to be a viable way of doing business long-term.

    For a long time, of course, Apple had great success with iTunes. So much so, in fact, that they changed the nature of the music business. Unfortunately, that success also brought with it an entirely new, and more dour perspective from the traditional music owners—large music labels—that’s making new business ventures in music significantly more challenging.

    Equally important, tastes in digital music consumption evolved from buying and downloading songs to streaming them. Consumers have become captivated by the option of getting access to an enormous range of musical choices, particularly in conjunction with the unique music discovery and social sharing capabilities that these services offer.

    But streaming services don’t seem to be the ultimate solution either. Most are ad-based and struggle with converting free customers to paid ones. In addition, there’s growing resentment in the music industry about the royalty payments made to musicians from these services. In fact, at this week’s Grammy awards, there was an impassioned plea from the music industry about the inequity of receiving tiny fraction-of-a-cent payouts for streaming music.

    The problem is, despite these concerns about payouts to the music industry, online music companies still have to invest significant money in order to get access to new music. Perhaps to no one’s surprise, the real issue seems to be in how that money is being distributed.

    The other challenge is one that seems to be similar to many other web-based media properties. While people acknowledge that there’s value in content, paying for that content alone doesn’t seem to be a viable way of doing business long-term. In the case of music sites, because they can’t seem to make money selling the music itself, they’re hoping to do so selling tickets to concerts, as well as artist’s t-shirts and other promotional items. It’s not likely to lead to gangbuster profits, but this more indirect model may at least lead to businesses that can survive.

    Longer term, however, there’s going to have to be some serious soul-searching and re-examination of long-held assumptions about internet business models, because they’re clearly not all spun from the gold of which many believe the web is made.

    Bob O’Donnell is the founder and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a technology consulting and market research firm. You can follow him on Twitter . This article was originally published on Tech.pinions. Streaming services masthead by

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    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 16, 2016
  2. insect

    insect TS Evangelist Posts: 315   +114

    How is this different from non-internet days? Record stores came and went. Only a few major artists ever made it. Record labels were super competitive. People recorded music off of the radio. The radio played it with ad-support - not much different from streaming (radio waves vs internet signals).

    Music has and always will be a struggling business because 1) Barrier to entry is low, 2) almost anyone can learn to do it well, 3) super-competition - how many thousands of record companies? How many millions of artists?

    Don't go into music for profit as a business. There isn't any. You go into music to draw attention to something else (e.g., come to amazon and buy stuff while you listen to music)
  3. Raoul Duke

    Raoul Duke TS Guru Posts: 860   +307

    I can't imagine life without music, yet I feel while I have money that I'm begging music companies to take, they don't get it because of their poor offerings. I have always been a proponent of digital music rather than vinyl, but I refuse to buy an mp3 or flac file. Even if I can find a CD to buy, it is still only 16 bit depth/44.1 kHz 1411 bitrate and uncompressed only if I rip it to my computer in wav form. I noticed Joe Satriani has his latest release available for download as 96 kHz/24 bit depth wav files (for $15 USD no less, but then he is the person selling). If I could find the artist's I want like that, ka-ching..instant sale. Same goes for SACD.iso's The JRiver player I use plays these, my brother uses foobar2000 and says the same thing, but try to find them (the SACD's not the players). I can't buy it if you don't offer it.
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2016
  4. Uncle Al

    Uncle Al TS Evangelist Posts: 1,498   +672

    Some how, some way, music will survive. I suspect the day of the giant catalog's will pass and we will have a bunch of private distributors that work with the artists. Of course, there are more than a few artists doing it on their own but regardless of the method, they will have to find a way to distribute to the mass audience at a price the consumer is willing to pay.
  5. TomSEA

    TomSEA TechSpot Chancellor Posts: 2,550   +594

    Guess I'm just old fashioned. I don't care for streaming sources because the quality isn't there plus unless I subscribe, I have to listen to commercials. Might as well listen to the radio.

    And I still like picking and choosing my own songs. I like Led Zeppelin, but not every Led Zeppelin song. So I load up a bluetooth/MP3 of which songs I like and I'm ready to listen commercial free and the exact songs I want. A little time consuming to go through that process, but over time I now have a catalog of nearly 3000 songs covering 4 decades that I can listen to and never have to skip a song or listen to a commercial.

    And yes, I purchased the mp3 versions of all of those songs over the last decade, or got them free as samplers or more recently free courtesy of Google Play.
    Raoul Duke likes this.
  6. Raoul Duke

    Raoul Duke TS Guru Posts: 860   +307

    @TomSEA I agree with you completely, that's the beauty of digital audio. I open my media player and file explorer, 'drag and drop' the files I want to hear in the player and you have what you want to hear when you want to hear it, commercial free, plus no clicks, pops as from vinyl. Tagging the files is a real chore though since the majority of mine are rips of CD's I have bought and keep. You can burn a mix as well to CD.
  7. tonylukac

    tonylukac TS Evangelist Posts: 1,291   +55

    There's a whole new wave (not wave file) of sales possible if the music industry provided the 5 channel (and 8 channel) songs that all our custom build pcs are capable of. If they're so complacent to not change or invest in any new tech, bypass them entirely. A musician can have a website written by a consultant (or themselves if they dabble in the html) that can sell a song for 25 cents and they would make 5 cents profit on that song, searched on google, instead of the meager .2 cents for streaming it. Shame on you hollywood. I'm almost sorry to say I ever lived there. Even with singles they got a penny a song. Sell a million, make a petty $10,000. Music isn't the american dream, it's the american nightmare. I paid $1 for most of my songs. Then they were inferiorly recorded as drmed .wma files and when the servers like napster were taken offline, they wouldn't play on new computers unless you burned them into lossless cd format and then ripped them into mp3s, losing quality BOTH times. Why couldn't they provide mp3s? They almost sound better on vinyl, all scratches included.
  8. Technician

    Technician TS Addict Posts: 677   +113

    Of course web music will stay, I listen to net radio almost exclusively in the yard because I can have smooth jazz 24 7 without commercials. Or any other genre for that matter, my wife likes new age and techno as do I on occasion and sometimes we listen to 40's era. It's nice to be out in the yard, and have hifi going from hidden speakers around the yard and if you want to switch what you are listening to, take out the cell phone and find something on the favorites list of net radio of explore new areas completely without ever needing to get up or go inside to the receiver to do it. Net radio makes this possible, over the air does too, to some extent, but with commercials and with a lot fewer genre choices.
  9. Adhmuz

    Adhmuz TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,617   +494

    Yet those 5.1 system you get for $100 aren't going to do the music justice anyways, 8 channel music would be a complete waste of time, the market for it is so dismal it would cost more than it would be worth. Even if you have "good" speakers, without a proper sound card your still going to have loss in quality that would defeat the purpose of the exercise.

    I have a setup capable of listening to 6 channel music, I have a couple albums, it sounds good on my Klipsch setup with Tangent 500 primaries played through my dedicated sound card, but to have all my music in this format would take up a tremendous amount of space. I have over 50,000 tracks that takes up 305GB, if it was all 6 channel audio it would take up TBs, however I think I would manage.
  10. Technician

    Technician TS Addict Posts: 677   +113

    Reminds me of the amazing new effect of 'quadrophonic' years ago. Quadraphonic is the forgotten surround sound system of the 1970s. It never was a huge commercial success, partly because the required equipment was expensive, partly because of a myriad conflicting formats, and partly because of the limited availability of music recordings in the format. If I want to listen to serious music reproduction, the PC isn't the place I go to, however it is the place I use to create a lot of music.
  11. Teko03

    Teko03 TS Maniac Posts: 302   +104

    I subscribe to Rhapsody Premier and it's on-demand streaming which allows up to 320 Kbps. There are no commercials/ads and you're not limited to computer generated playlists. I create my own genre and/or mood base playlists with all the songs I want to hear and not anything else. I also get the benefit of easily discovering new music with their Rhapsody generated playlists/radio features which creates playlists by artist, song or mood.

    I really don't see how you're loosing any control. It seems you're confusing the paid options with services like Pandora, which offer little to no control over what you here.
    ikesmasher likes this.
  12. Fobus

    Fobus TS Enthusiast Posts: 25   +14

    This article leaves the elephant in the room - record labels, who take the majority of the profits. Artists are misguided in their ire to streaming services. Cut records labels from the equation and artist payout will increase tenfold. ( don't quote me on this, but if anyone would so kind as to share real numbers with, that would be great!)
    SirGCal likes this.
  13. 9Nails

    9Nails TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,212   +174

    I mix my music that I've purchased on CD and digital copy through the years and store them on a USB drive for access in my car. This isn't idea because the collection has grown beyond the capacity of the car stereo to queue up tracks on demand. And I haven't researched the proper formatting to create play lists. So I shuffle thousands of songs, skipping a handful when I'm looking for something else.

    I'm mixing this listening habit with use of Pandora One (paid streaming service). I also have access to Amazon streaming audio through my Prime subscription. But Pandora is still my first pick based on stations which I've created. It would hurt me if web streaming music went away because this is mostly how I discover new music these days.

    I'm not sure concerts are working out well either. For one, the service charge on tickets is robbery. I live in a city of several million people and bands often slip past this part of the country. I have to drive a few hours to Los Angeles for the musicians that I really care to see. Then there's also the concerts which are sold out or over priced. I can't imagine spending much more than the price of a CD on a concert, but some bands have asked ticket prices over $100 per seat.
  14. Technician

    Technician TS Addict Posts: 677   +113

    By the time it hits the internet, it's not so new any more. I miss the CBGB and OMFUG days but there are still similar things happening today.
  15. KD7CAO

    KD7CAO TS Rookie

    The bigger issue I believe is that in the days of Over the Air Broadcast (AM and FM) users did not have to "pay" an additional fee to listen to streaming music. Purchase a device that cost between a few pennies and thousands of dollars and listen for ever. Some didn't even require power (Crystal Radios). Today, we have to have high tech gadgets; smartphones, computers, tablets, satellite radios, etc. Of course the majority are multi-function, but we also have to pay an additional fee to use these devices "Internet" is not free even hotspots in cafes because you still have to pay to use these services in some form. With major cellular companies offering measly 10 GB and less data plans, it is extremely easy to exceed the bandwidth available to a user and thus make it unenjoyable to have to pay an additional fee for commercial free music. I am sure most of were hoping that utilizing all the streaming services would force the carriers into adopting the "truly unlimited" data plans but few have gone this route and those that have often have data caps that throttle your bandwidth after you exceed your allotment.
  16. ChuckyJ

    ChuckyJ TS Rookie

    Perfect comment.
  17. SirGCal

    SirGCal TS Maniac Posts: 365   +136

    I was in a good band in College. We all got out due to record label BS. If I knew then what I know now, I'd have tried to do it all independent. The guys that do the work today do NOT get the money.

    I also just burn my own CDs to USB drives for the car. No longer listen to music much elsewhere. And can't stream well through the car so that's all pointless. Never cared for satellite radio either.
  18. Chris Plunkett

    Chris Plunkett TS Rookie

    It used to be 11% in the UK that had to be split between the manager AND the musician.Record companies can afford to give music away when it's from the big and successful recording artists when they're main source of income is (or used to be) concert tours and merchandising sales.Kiss are the most profitable band ever (or were) and Gene Simmonds is a billionaire just from the sales of the Kiss Army memoribila alone,then of course there's the money from the always-sold-out-in-minutes concert tours Kiss did.
  19. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 11,455   +1,759

    Well, I don't know how many "cover" versions of songs you've listened to on YouTube, but a sizable percentage are done by people who, "think they can do it well", but can't. As often as not, they draw a wince, and then a quick left click on the stop button.
    Don't quite see the problem there. WAV only takes a few seconds longer to rip, (if that), and everybody seems to be buying 4+ TB HDDs. Thus, storage space shouldn't be an issue.

    Most of the music I listen to is 30+ years old . Even at 16 bit depth, a lot of music on many early CDs, like country from the 90's, sounds better and more natural than the hyper compressed garbage of today.

    You can get bogged down in technical issues, but the music itself should be the measure of why you want to listen to it. Try listening to a Beatles album. Half of their material is remastered from mono, and the newer stuff isn't that much better. Same situation with all the actually listenable Rolling Stones albums.

    OK, Neil Young is the face of what I believe is a player brand named "Pono", and it plays 24 bit FLAC. Good luck finding source material.

    As far as SACD goes, I though that initiative failed decades ago, and the subsequent Music DVDs.

    OK well, I've lived through the entire "quadrophonic revolution", trick speaker wiring, analog delays, and the lot of it.

    If you want to sit in one spot and do nothing but listen to music, the 4 5, 6, 7, or 8 channel setup is just dandy. Other than that it's just too damned directional and tiring. (Here I'm talking close field environments, like the average living room).

    I do remember owning a quad recording, (on vinyl), titled, "E. Power Biggs plays Bach's Four Great Toccatas on the Four Antiphonal Organs of the Cathedral of Freiburg" (Or something close to that). Meh, but I bought it again on mere stereo CD/. Turn it up loud enough, it bounces off the walls and still sounds like it's coming from all over.

    But you're right about $100.00 speakers. There is no shame about the crap they'll call -"high fidelity". Today's power ratings and distortion figures look like the manufacturers will say whatever they think they can get away with, and the FTC seems to have given up on disputing, testing, or caring about it.

    EDITORIAL: I would like to say I sympathize with today's artists and those grandmothers and children who have run afoul of the mighty RIAA in the past.

    Major music streaming services, Apple in particular, decided they weren't even going to pay royalties for songs they streamed. Taylor Swift took Apple on about it, and won.

    So it's phenomenally creepy when big corporations simply and summarily infringe on copyrights, while some 13 year old gets arrested or sued for downloading an album.

    In the UK, it's gotten bad enough, that you can no longer legally make a mixed tape. Despite the fact, (I'm guessing here), that England has a "Home recording act" similar to ours in the US:

    Yet, when you grease enough palms of judges and/or politicians, the music establishment can pretend that these laws never existed.
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2016
    Phr3d likes this.
  20. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 11,455   +1,759

    Anyway, since anybody can do this,. let's listen to "Angel" by Sarah McLaughlin. First the artist and writer in her home studio:

    Then a pretty darned god cover by one Julie Lavery:

    No problem right? Somebody out there can do this song cause it's easy.

    PM me with your video of the song and I'll edit it into this post....(y)
  21. Raoul Duke

    Raoul Duke TS Guru Posts: 860   +307

    I always rip to .wav, as you say today with 4TB+ hard drives, space is no problem.
    I think all the SACD's I see are from Japan, they seem to essentially be dead in this country. Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs (MFSL) make some high-spec good sounding CD's, but they are rare as well.
    I agree as well that just because it's high spec, that doesn't necessarily mean it sounds better, but my hope is that it at least lets you hear what is there (recorded). I don't obsess over it, but given a choice....
    I listen at home so I have no use for mobile devices. Sure seems like I am a minority there
    I could also do without the music that has become so pervasive in public (restaurants, shopping malls, grocery stores etc.).
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2016
  22. entrycoupling

    entrycoupling TS Rookie

    Personally, I think, music will always survive be it in the web or not. We are now in the cyber world and everyone is depending online. Music is cool and most people live with those sounds that they hear.
  23. techsoup

    techsoup TS Rookie

    The interesting part is the return or resurgence of vinyl. The way it looks to me, the internet as a communication place for enthusiasts played a big role in that, while streaming services didn't!

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