Cyberclinic: Is the idea of owning your music now just as outdated as the LP?
Wednesday 30 January 2008
Is the idea of actually owning music becoming as old-fashioned as LPs? There's always a persistent, low-level chatter across the internet about revolutionary new ways to consume music. Record companies are constantly jockeying for position, anxious not to back an outlet for their material that might quickly be outmanoeuvred by some other groundbreaking idea. But over the past few weeks, many have signed agreements to give tunes away for free under an advertising-supported model.
We7.com, for example, tacks on a 10-second ad to each song – annoying, but hey, you're getting it for nothing. Other services at Qtrax. com and imeem.com are, apparently, imminent. But possibly the most far-sighted announcement comes from last.fm: more than 3.5 million tracks, from both major labels and independents, are available to listen to on the site in full while banner adverts flash along – making it the biggest legal collection of music to play online for free.
There are drawbacks: you can only hear them on a device connected to the internet, and individual tracks can only be played three times by each user – beyond that you have to pay a subscription fee. On the Cyberclinic blog, some of you had stronger objections. Michael pointed out that "all tracks released by the Beggars Group of independent labels have been removed due to legal issues". Another anonymous contributor had a more philosophical problem: "It represents a disturbing advance by the major record labels to gain their footing in the online world," he said, "and the independent spirit among artists and audience loses out. Time for the real revolution to carry on elsewhere."
When I visit last.fm I'm certainly not swamped with major label product, and I'm not sure what revolution our commenter is seeking – perhaps one where all the big media companies suddenly collapse, and independent musicians start somehow coining it in big time – but, in the face of widespread file-sharing, there seems to be a sense behind the idea of non-ownership. Whether I'm playing a track from a hard disk in the corner of my room or a hard disk connected to the internet several thousand miles away doesn't really matter – as long as I can get at it when I want it. Easy access is the key.
That's why iTunes has been such a success, and illegal downloads are so rampant: they both allow you quickly to hear what you want. OK, a huge number of us still get our music on good old CD. But as mobile phones, MP3 players and living-room hi-fis become connected more quickly and reliably to the internet, ownership of songs is inevitably going to become more and more irrelevant.
It is possible to be addicted to technology? And what have been the greatest web design disasters of the past 10 years? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, or join the discussions on the daily technology blog, independent.co.uk/cyberclinic.
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