So these guys aren’t the only technological determinists to say this, nor is the streaming future limited to music (see “cloud computing” hype). But they are emblematic of a line of thought that needs some strong tempering.
JS: It’s a streaming future.
EVB: Yes. I believe downloading music for free will eventually be seen as a waste of time and disk space.
JS: Music fans who can just grab it elsewhere are losing interest in P2P. The RIAA had very little to do with it.
EVB: And as fraught as the whole “bundling with service providers” thing is (will I have to subscribe to multiple ISPs if I want both ESPN and Spotify?), bundling is a promising option for getting people to pay.
These guys predict that the future of music is not in downloading files like mp3s, but in streaming services. Like cloud computing, the idea is that instead of containing files and programs on your hard drive, they are instead web apps hosted on a remote server that you access with a device connected to the internet. The real advantage to this scheme is that small devices with tiny hard drives, like phones, can have all the capabilities of a computer.
But there are some serious disadvantages to cloud computing that smart people are raising as well. They center around control — a company, such as Google, will hold your data and you have to access it remotely. You don’t have to be a huge privacy advocate to worry about hacking or internet outages keeping you from your stuff.
A “streaming future” shares some of these problems, as well as containing their own issues. What immediately leaped to my mind is how streaming-only would destroy a big part of what interests me in contemporary music production — the border-crossing remixing, mashing up, sampladelic world of global internet pop. Streamed music is fundamentally out of your control. You do not have access to the file, and therefore you cannot re-edit it, remix it, sample it, or incorporate it into a DJ mix — Goodbye Web 2.0, hello Web 1.0. You cannot play songs unless you are connected to the internet (so pony up that $4.95 when you’re at Starbucks or the airport for wireless access) and have a subscription to the streaming service. The streaming future effectively re-installs record labels (with their tech company allies) as gatekeepers between artists and listeners, with the added bonus of a frictionless data mining operation.
This is the pernicious aspect of the streaming future hype — it’s a ploy to get listeners to go back to the old model with corporations controlling distribution. Where legal action and threats failed in stopping P2P filesharing, technology promises to succeed through convenience (aided on the other side by significant victories against the major bit-torrent sites). The implications are huge — in a streaming future, music will need to obtain access to whatever services control access to devices (phones). You can imagine the cartelization that could ensue — just as telecoms allied with phone manufacturers, labels might align with particular streamers and ISPs to the exclusion of others, as the above quotation points out. If music samples or remixes unlawfully, it will be kicked off the streaming service (if it’s allowed on in the first place), just as YouTube repeatedly pulls videos for copyright infringement. And when it’s gone, it’s gone — you don’t have a file on your hard drive, so you can’t listen to it any more.
I’m not opposed to streaming out of hand — I “listen” to a lot of YouTube uploads as part of my steady diet of music. My concern is that it will replace P2P filesharing, in essence a far more radical threat to music as private property, as the primary way of distributing music online. If you care about at all about the incredible leveling effect the internet has had on music, and the unique creative forms it has inspired, you should oppose the streaming future. P2P filesharing will always have a significant following, but if it ceases to be the dominant form of obtaining songs, corporations will have re-asserted dominance over music.