The Rise of Music-as-a-Service: Hear and Now

I have been a passionate lover and collector of music for nearly 30 years, and a lot has changed since the day that I bought my first portable radio and record player, and today, where illegal music downloading continues menacing the industry’s established commercial model. However, through more effective regulation and the arrival of more attractive music offers (See The Economist: Singing a Different Tune), there are fewer and fewer and incentives to obtain music illegally.

The changes in the music industry have enabled listeners to get quicker enjoyment and a much richer experience in a variety of ways. Based on my own listening history – described in detail below – we can see that music has shifted from an album sales-driven business to one focused on receiving a personalized, listening experience.

This fundamental product-to-service shift is changing the way people consume and enjoy music around the world, and has a number of important characteristics:

  1. The shift from paying a one-off price for physical music media, to small fees for digital song licenses and predicable subscriptions to on-line music catalogues
  2. Greater access to a wider variety of artists material and related background information, from around the world
  3. The ability to hear music on-demand, providing instant user gratification, through easy discovery, acquisition and usage
  4. Content portability and ubiquitous access, across distinct media platforms
  5. A personalized listening experience with high user interactivity and community sharing capabilities

Many of these features are emerging in other media industries, such as news, book, and film, as they too shift from product to service-driven businesses.

Now, for those who are interested in seeing how one music lover’s habits have changed over the past 30 years, please read on!

Evolution of a music lover’s consumption

  • I started out as an avid AM/FM radio listener in the late 70’s, tuning into the weekly Top-10 and Top-100 music chart countdowns to hear the latest music. At the same time I had to put up with many songs and artists that I didn’t particularly like, not to mention advertising.
  • My first purchases consisted of 12” (30 cm) 33 rpm vinyl albums and selected 7”(18cm) 45 rpm singles, all bought at the local music shop.
  • The use of cassette tape (Luckily I did not have an 8-track cassette player) allowed me to store and transport more albums compared to vinyl, while the Sony Walkman let me to listen to my music on the go. Of course I had to be careful not damage or stretch the plastic tape. Pirating required a dual-cassette deck, which not many people had.
  • Music mail-order clubs, like Columbia House (now Your Music.com), gave me access to over 5000 artists and albums. As a new subscriber, I would get the first 10 albums for 1 cent, but I would then be locked into purchasing a minimum number of albums over the next 12 months. My music would take 2-3 week to arrive.
  • The arrival of digital CDs en the early ’80s slightly improved the sound quality, but at a price 2x that of cassettes. I could easily transport 20+ CDs to feed my portable DiscMan. Pirating required a CD burner, which remained expensive until the proliferation of computers with CD Drive over a decade later.
  • With the emergence of Music Mega Stores in the late 80s, like HMV and Tower Records, I got access to some of the top international acts, and foreign music press.
  • The development of the Web in the early-mid ’90s was a game changer. It enabled a number of revolutionary capabilities, including: i) easy coping and sharing of songs, ii) the development of illegal music download services like Napster & Kaaza, iii) streaming music services like Listen.com (now Rhapsody), and iv) the arrival of lower-overhead, Internet music retailers like CD Plus and Amazon.com.
  • The Internet also became the ideal space for satisfying music fans hunger for music-related information and news, with sites like MTV and allmusic, while enabling specialized music shops like Dusty Groove or Descarga to expand their addressable market beyond national borders.
  • Advances in consumer IT gave us the portable digital music (MP3) players, including devices like the Apple iPod and mobile phone with embedded players. These were able to hold 100s of songs. For me this was my musical tipping point, as I could now easily bring 1000’s of songs with me!
  • The development of viable business models in 2000, sparked legal music download services like MP3.comiTunes and Amazon MP3 (the first to offer non-DRM protected songs). These offered users simple music discovery, and purchases of individual songs for one low, set price of around $/€ 0.99. A few allegedly illegal sites like allofMp3 also sprouted, selling non-DRM protected songs, for a fraction of the price. In both cases, I could try before buying, and buy only the music that I wanted.
  • Innovative music services such as Pandora became smarter, analyzing my musical taste, and automatically offering a more personalized listening experience as a result.
  • Innovative mobile Internet devices like the Apple iPhone (released in 2007) has made it even simpler for me to identify songs that I like, through music recognition applications like Shazam. With that, I can also make one-click, over-the-air music purchases via iTunes, giving me instant gratification.
  • Social networking services like My Space and Facebook allow anyone (See U2’s MySpace Page and Madonna’s Facebook page) to create personal web pages, highlighting their favourite music and artists, while sharing it all with others.
  • With the latest online music services, like Deezer and Spotify,  I now have ‘free’ (but really advertising-sponsored), on-demand access to thousands of songs, while connecting me others music aficionados, to share similar tastes. The same websites sell premium daily or monthly subscriptions services, with enhanced capabilities.
  • Services like TuneWiki offer me with greater musical and social relevance, by providing on-demand music lyrics, related videos, real-time listener charts, and music maps, all based on the songs I listen to.
  • As Music services continue evolving, under the impulse of usage trends, increasingly flexible listening devices and ubiquitous broadband connectivity, I expect to continue finding the music content that I like, more easily – by myself or with peer recommendations – , more quickly and at a price suiting my needs, while allowing me to increasingly interact with those who matter to me.

Now if that’s not music to your ears, just turn up the volume a bit more!

One Response to “The Rise of Music-as-a-Service: Hear and Now”

  1. Diana Patricia Says:

    Leí toda tu historia, qué interesante. Me parece muy chévere que tengas esta sección de tu historia como amante de la música ubicada aquí.Un saludo.

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