The world of digital music is an exciting place, whether you’re a record label, a band or a music fan. 2007 has seen huge amounts of activity, including DRM-free downloads, social network widgets, the rise of mobile music, Radiohead’s choose-your-own-price album, recommendation services, personal online radio, video karaoke sites, and the first trials of free music funded by advertising.
I’ve tried to round up these disparate trends in the traditional blog stylee (i.e. a Top 30 list), providing links back to the stories that Tech Digest and other blogs have covered, and chunks of analysis on What It All Means.
It’ll be running over the next few days, kicking off with the first five today: Ad-funded music, console games with music downloads, music search engines, Beatles Go Digital speculation, and governments cracking down on file-sharing. Read on for these, and keep coming back for the other 25 in the coming days.
1. Ad-funded Music
We’re comfortable with the idea that adverts fund TV shows, magazines and newspapers, and websites, so why not music? That’s the theory, anyway, which startups like SpiralFrog, We7, Qtrax and others are investigating. It seems like a neat solution to the music industry’s problem of people not wanting to pay for music downloads, providing a legitiate revenue stream for free music.
In truth, it’s early days – with SpiralFrog in particular struggling to make the business model work quickly. Yet that’s not a sign that ad-funded music won’t work, as shown by the news that MySpace plans to trial the idea, and even that Apple may bring an ad-funded element to iTunes at some point.
Meanwhile, new spins on the ad-funded model are appearing regularly, such as RCRD LBL, which is part-blog and part record label, offering free tunes supported by adverts on its site. Nobody has found the secret formula for making ad-funded music pay off yet, but everybody is trying to.
2. Console Games With Music Downloads
I’m talking music games here, like Guitar Hero III, Rock Band and SingStar, which are offering a new model of being able to buy and download extra tracks after you’ve bought the initial game. Velvet Revolver and the Foo Fighters are providing the first such ‘track packs’ for Guitar Hero III, for example.
The record labels love the idea – people who wouldn’t pay for a digital single WILL pay (and probably pay more than 79p) for a Guitar Hero III track. And there’s already data showing that bands whose music are included in these games get a separate sales boost on digital stores like iTunes, so they’re clamoring to get into the games (not something that was always true in the past).
When a supposedly anti-establishment band like the Sex Pistols deigns to re-record one of their classic tracks for a game, you know something’s up. And gamers certainly aren’t getting the feeling they’ve been cheated…
3. Music Search Engines
Want free music from pretty much any band you like, instantly? It’s not just about BitTorrent anymore. Several music search engines have sprung up in the last year, including Seeqpod, Songza and Skreemr.
They don’t host music themselves, but instead search and sort tunes hosted on other sites. As such, they’re seemingly on just the right side of the law, in terms of not getting shut down for copyright infringement (at least, that’s what one top lawyer reckons).
4. Beatles Go Digital Speculation
It feels like we’ve been gossiping about Beatles songs being released digitally for years. Probably because we have. But this year has been a particularly fertile one for rumours. Yes, admittedly that one about the Yellow Submarine iPod turned out to be cobblers (for now), but a far more accurate source is Sir Paul McCartney himself, who recently said that the Beatles will finally go digital in 2008. Probably.
In the meantime, we’ll have to make do with bootlegs like the recent Cracked Pepper mash-up album, which splices the famous Beatles album with everything from ELO and The Clash to Groove Armada.
5. Governments Crack Down on File-Sharing
So far, when it comes to fighting P2P file-sharing, it’s been the music industry making the running – for example the US-based RIAA suing individual file-sharers, or fellow industry body the IFPI supplying information to police around the world to help them raid BitTorrent tracker owners (more on both of these later in this series of posts).
However, in France the government is getting involved, with planned legislation to remove internet access from people caught downloading pirated content (music, films, games…).
The IFPI says it would like to see Gordon Brown’s government follow suit here in the UK, although many politicians would rather see the music industry and ISPs come to some arrangement. Whatever happens, the prospect of losing your internet connection is likely to have an even bigger ‘stick’ effect for music fans than even the threat of fines.