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30 Trends in Digital Music: 16-20

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girls-aloud-mobile-music.jpgOkay, so I've been a bit lax, and left a few days gap since the last instalment of this digital music roundup. So without further ado, get set for the next five trends (and if you need a catch-up on the previous ones, check out part one, part two and part three first).

16. The rise of mobile music

In the past, the biggest impact mobile phones had on the music industry was the shameful invention of Crazy Frog. Not any more. As we go into 2008, the music industry is genuinely excited about the potential of mobile handsets for music discovery and consumption, even if actual sales through the operators' own music stores haven't given Apple a headache.

To cite a few recent developments: Nokia launched its own music store, and then teamed up with Universal Music Group for a new 'Comes With Music' subscription service that'll be paid for when you buy a handset. Vodafone has gone live with its own music subscription service, Omnifone's MusicStation. And Sony Ericsson has announced plans for its own mobile music store in 2008.

The record labels are all keen to see something - anything - start to rival iTunes' dominance in the digital music market, and many think mobile phones represent the best platform. Meanwhile, operators are still keen to talk up their own music stores, with Orange recently announcing that it sold 203,000 full-track downloads in October alone.

17. Bands giving music away for free

I don't mean Radiohead's honesty box policy either. I mean properly free. Like the Charlatans giving away their next album through XFM's website. Or The Verve releasing their first new material as a free download on NME.com. Or Kylie giving away a megamix of her new material via her own website. Oh, and Prince's notorious tie-up with the Daily Mail, of course.

The reasons for giving away brand new music are many and varied - to build a buzz, to increase gig ticket and merchandise sales, or just to get some attention for a record that nobody would otherwise buy. But the fact remains that in 2008, we'll see more bands follow in the above artists' footsteps.

18. The UGC / karaoke crossover

You might not be the next Mia Rose or Esmee Denters (or even the next Numa Numa guy), but that doesn't mean you don't want to bellow into a webcam and upload the musical results for the world to see. Thankfully, there are several sites springing up to cater for your exhbitionist tendencies.

EA's The Sims On Stage is one example, as is kSolo. Meanwhile, if you're a rapper, you might want to check out Vibe Magazine's Rap Battle contest. And if you honk like a goose but dance like an angel, DanceJam does the same thing for dancing (and better still, MC Hammer is its co-founder.

TV talent shows like The X-Factor and Pop Idol have already taught us plenty about the democratisation of pop stardom, but these UGC karaoke sites take the idea even further.

19. The Net neutrality debate goes mainstream

Currently, the idea of net neutrality is something that's debated by, in the main, techy types. Thing it, it's more important than that, and 2008 will see the issue becoming more widely discussed. In short, it concerns whether your ISP has the right to moderate, block or throttle traffic according to its own commercial and/or regulatory motives. And music is at the heart of this.

Why? In the US, there's already a controversy over whether ISP Comcast has been throttling P2P file-sharing traffic on its network. The ISP prefers to describe it as using "the latest technologies to manage our network" - an explanation which has cut little ice with campaigners.

Meanwhile, Canadian ISP Bell Sympatico has recently been accused of also throttling BitTorrent traffic on its own network. If European ISPs follow suit, watch this debate rage over here next year too, with music and films at the heart of it.

20. When is a leak not a leak?

In the 21st century music industry, songs and albums leak. They turn up on BitTorrent trackers days or even weeks before release, sometimes forcing that release date to be brought forward. It's a pain for labels, but it happens.

One trend is for labels to sue any legitimate site that links to or hosts leaked music. For example, Britney Spears' record label sued celebrity blogger Perez Hilton for posting numerous songs leaked from her new album 'Blackout' before it officially came out.

Yet there's a parallel trend - the realisation that pre-release leaks can actually build anticipation for new albums, and increase sales rather than cannibalise them. Think of all those MySpace exclusives, for example, or... Britney Spears' record label, which signed an official deal with MTV and saw a million people stream the album through it.

Other posts in this series
30 Trends: 1-5
30 Trends: 6-10
30 Trends: 11-15
30 Trends: 16-20
30 Trends: 21-25

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