Let’s get one thing straight. The internet isn’t killing music, any more than home taping did back in the 1980s. Yes, CD sales are on the slide. Yes, people are still using peer-to-peer download services to trouser free music, despite the threat of legal action from the music industry. And yes, it’s possible that a whole generation of teenagers now believe music isn’t something you pay for.
But these are challenges for the music industry, not mortal wounds. The way we discover, consume and share music is changing fast, and the internet brings as many opportunities for bands and singers as it does threats. A new breed of online music services are springing up to offer a Web 2.0 take on music listening.
I’ve rounded up ten of the most interesting ones, including the big names (yes, MySpace is in there), but also some cool startups. And that’s without mentioning innovative blogs like Pitchfork – which has broken several new bands recently – and Trackfeeder. Read on for a taste of what else Music 2.0 has to offer.
1. MYSPACE (www.myspace.com)
In some senses, MySpace is old news in terms of music. Bands have been setting up their own profiles for ages now, with the site’s embedded player letting you hear artists who haven’t been covered in the traditional music media yet. And yes, it was a big factor in the rise of Lily Allen and the Arctic Monkeys, even if the stories have been somewhat embellished in both cases.
But what’s interesting is where MySpace goes now. How will it avoid further spats with artists who want to sell digital songs from their profiles using third-party widgets? What part – if any – will music play in MySpace’s mobile activities such as its exclusive deal with Vodafone? What kind of royalties should MySpace be paying the record labels and publishers? And could it get outflanked by some of the companies below? Answering these questions is going to be interesting.
2. SONGBIRD (www.songbirdnest.com)
Songbird describes itself as a mash-up of a desktop Web player, a digital jukebox, and a traditional Web browser. You could call it iTunes meets Firefox (especially accurate, since like the latter it’s based on Mozilla). Browse websites with music files on them – blogs, for example – and it’ll cue them up for playing.
It ties into an increasing selection of online stores – compared to iTunes, which only works with Apple’s iTunes Store. And because it’s open-source, all manner of developers are chipping in to create nifty extensions for it. Songbird is still officially in ‘developer preview’, but you can download it and have a play now.
3. MOG (www.mog.com)
An innovative new music community that shares several features with Last.fm (see below), but also throws in some new ideas. You can upload MP3 music to share with friends, read news and reviews, and get recommendations on new tunes based on your existing collection (the latter through a download, MOG-O-MATIC.
Recent additions include a neat Magic Button feature, which provides instant recommendations, and something called MOG TV. The latter is a personalised music TV channel, which throws up a bunch of YouTube music videos based on your tastes.
4. NOKIA MUSIC RECOMMENDERS (www.musicrecommenders.com)
This recommendation service was launched to parade Nokia’s cutting-edge music credentials, and to test-drive its download-store technology in advance of a full iTunes rival coming later this year. The idea is simple enough: 40 independent stores around the world choose some tracks every month, which you can preview and buy.
These are shops that you’d probably be scared to walk into in the real-world, but which theoretically are quickest to catch onto new trends in their areas (including London, Germany, Japan, Brazil, Jamaica…). And, of course, there’s a strong mobile angle, given that Nokia is behind it. Now excuse me, I’ve got some blistering dub-step J-Pop to listen to…
5. JAMGLUE (www.jamglue.com)
The term ‘jam’ has brought me out in goose-pimples ever since a mammoth 20-minute-long middle-eight during a Black Crowes gig, during which I had time to go to the loo, buy a pint AND refind my mates in the crowd. Jamglue (sadly) has nothing to do with the Crowes. Instead, it’s about uploading your tracks, and then letting other members of the community remix them, while you remix theirs.
The big appeal is the user-friendliness of the remixing tool, and the way you can then easily share or embed the resulting
aural catastrophe top choon however you want. Creativity is as much a part of Music 2.0 as consuming and community – something Jamglue and its rivals are a testament too.
6. LAST.FM (www.last.fm)
Like MySpace, Last.fm is one of the well-known Music 2.0 services – most people reading this post will know that you can use it to create personalised radio streams based on the artists and songs that you already like. And that’s cool. But there are two other reasons why I think Last.fm will make a lasting impact.
First, there’s the social networking that’s sprung up around the radio aspect. Being able to see what friends have been listening to, and even dip into their streams, is fab. Second, Last.fm has momentum with the record labels, having recently signed deals with Warner Music Group and EMI.
7. HOOOKA (www.hoooka.com)
Hoooka isn’t a site, it’s an online music store widget, which is the work of Indie911. It lets bands create their own digital store to sell songs and videos on their social network profile, blog or website, and take 80% of the revenues. It can be customised to the nth degree, and can even include a live chat feature if they want.
Unsigned bands have been able to promote their music online for a while now, but actually selling it has been harder. Widgets like Hoooka won’t replace the labels, of course – they’re more likely to become an important way for bands to get signed, as they’ll be able to prove they’ve got commercial potential. The cloud on the horizon is spats like the one with MySpace (see above).
8. RUCKUS (www.ruckusnetwork.com)
Over in the US, music industry body the RIAA has been trying to stop students from file-sharing by sending them scary legal letters. A more constructive way to wean them onto legal downloading is offered by Ruckus, which offers more than 2.5 million tracks free, with revenues coming from advertising.
In February, Ruckus announced that since moving to the free ad-funded model, its subscriber base had increased by more than 14 times. The company has signed licensing deals with major and indie labels alike, and the only downside is that it’s US-only for now. Bring it over here, quick! And, er, let those of us whose university days are way behind us use it too…
9. FOXYTUNES (www.foxytunes.com)
Two services in one, here. The original FoxyTunes is a browser plug-in that checks what music you’re listening to in your media player, and lets you find lyrics, videos, biographies and other content via a right-click. Simple, but useful.
However, FoxyTunes Planet is even cooler. It’s a musical search engine. Type in a band, and it brings up a page of links to YouTube videos, similar Last.fm artists, Flickr photos, LyricWiki lyrics and albums to buy on Amazon. However, you can then add and remove these widgets, subbing in iTunes links, blog posts on Hype Machine, and other download store links. Fab.
10. MYSTRANDS (www.mystrands.com)
MyStrands is another social recommendation service, riffing off your iTunes library to find other stuff it thinks you might like. It also ties in social networking features, so you can find recommendations via friends or likeminded music fans, as well as posting blog entries and messaging other people.
That’s all cool, but similar to Last.fm and Pandora. What makes MyStrands really interesting, though, is its mobile aspects. There are Windows Mobile and Symbian applications available, which bring all these features to your phone. Okay, so you really need an unlimited data tariff to make use of it, but with phones increasingly seen as music-playing devices in their own right, MyStrands is ahead of the curve.