Why Fred Wilson is Wrong About Streaming Music Taking Over for Files

Why Fred Wilson is Wrong About Streaming Music Taking Over for Files
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Fred has a new post up that says streaming music will take over for files in just a few years:

Yes, it’s true that listeners will still want to own files for a few more years. There are places and devices that can’t get high bandwidth wireless Internet access, like my macbook pro which I am writing this on the plane ride home to NYC. I am listening to mp3s (no drm for me) in iTunes all the way home.

But over the next five years, the number of places and devices where you can’t get a speedy wireless connection is going to dwindle to maybe the car. And you’ve always got radio in the car which is going to get better and better because it has to in order to survive.

If it were just a matter of having enough bandwidth that there are no performance disadvantages to streaming, I would agree with Fred, but there is a lot more to music than bandwidth.  Put another way, the music experience is about a lot more than just getting hold of the bits, or even just playing them back.  More about why in a minute, but first let’s following along with Fred a bit longer and see what else we can glean from his thinking.

I can see the business opportunity for streaming.  The file end has become commoditized and evolved to the point where Apple is now the largest seller of music files in the world (we’re considering CD’s and iTunes downloads as files since you own the bits).  Streaming offers a chance to start over pre-commoditization.  It’s like the labels making all that money from switching from LP’s to CD’s or VHS to DVD’s all over again.  I can already hear them rubbing their hands together and saying, “And we’ll do things differently this time.  We will be in control.”

Yikes!

Do you want the music industry in control?  Haven’t we seen how they behave?

Fred sees streaming as the new radio stations.  They not only play you music, but they keep your playlists based on tracks you like, your friends like, people with the same taste like, yada, yada, yada.  It’ll all be supported by advertising (yay!  another reason why free isn’t dead.  maybe.) and the labels will get an appropriate kickback each time the song is played.

Hmmm.  It sounds so “Back to the Future.”  Didn’t we just spend most of the last 10 or 20 years moving away from this model?  Aren’t we madly Tivoing, Napstering, Web Browsing, XM Radioing, and a whole host of other “ings” precisely because we don’t want someone else in control of our dial?  Precisely because we don’t want all the advertising distracting us?

Of course this is relevant to riff on because of the MySpace announcement.  They now have a streaming service with deals with the big labels as Fred mentions.  The other point that has Fred’s attention is he has evidently been talking to Ian Rogers, ex-Yahoo Music about the whole thing.  Ian evidently waxes eloquent about how music starts.  What it takes socially for music to spread.  This is where Fred’s problem starts, I believe.

He is so focused on the social aspects of music, he loves to talk about his own latest musical discoveries, that he is willing to project the experience of discovering new music as the whole experience involved in enjoying and experiencing music.  That’s just wrong.  For Fred, the joy of discovering a great new song and sharing it with others may be the majority of what he gets out of music.

For others, the joy may be more focused towards experiencing the music itself.  Experiencing in recordings, concerts, live bands playing a favorite song as a cover, and wherever else you can.  Discovering a new tune is great, but I don’t grow tired of great old tunes either.  That’s why I’m not willing to cede total control over my music to streaming.  I want to control my music.  It’s annoying enough if it only plays on say the iTunes player because of DRM.  I’ve seen too many of these format changes to think that’s a good thing.  I buy DRM-free whenever and wherever I can.

Mathew Ingram gets it:

I only have about 3,000 songs — but the main reason I do is because I like to put them on shuffle and get surprised by a song that I can barely remember ever downloading or ripping, but one that I remember listening to way back when. That’s a great feeling. And it’s even better when you can do it with a select group of songs you love, rather than just waiting for one to come on the radio by accident.

Maybe the majority of people aren’t like Mathew and me.  I have about 3,000 songs, but I remember them all clearly, can recite the lyrics, and recognize the tune from a few notes.  That music lives for me.  It triggers memories of what I was doing in life when each song was a hit.

You can’t replace that by ceding control to streamers.  A streamer owns it all.  Here today, gone, higher priced, or less desirable to use tomorrow.

Fred is right about streaming as a discovery vehicle.  You have to cede control to discover new music.  But he is so wrong that files have only a few years left and it’s only a matter of bandwidth.

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