Music and Tech: They Grow Up so Fast

How two industries can do great things in SoCal

Since the rise and fall of Napster music sales have waded through muddy waters (plays chicago-style blues riff). Impresarios such as iTunes, Pandora, Spotify, and Beats have rebuilt avenues for people to live and breathe music. The majority of companies in the audio pulpit have caught on to streaming services, but what will the next shift be and will they adjust?

They must continue to find new refreshing ways of reshaping the behavior of tech-savvy generations. Music listening has evolved over the past 35 years from CD’s, to downloads, and now streaming subscriptions. The most recent is a billion dollar industry with potential that is just barely being tapped. Still, there are gaps says the International Federation of Phonographic Industry (IFPI).

In 2013 IFPI reported that the music industry still makes a majority of its profits selling CD’s—downloads only make up 67% of digital sales. CD profits will fall along with their popularity (begins to make pin wheels from collection) as subscription profits are expected to fill in that gap according to IFPI statistics from 2008-2013. That’s where the likes of Spotify, Google Play Music, Rhapsody, and Apple Beats will enter the battle for subscription supremacy (gentlemen, start your nunchuck swinging).

International Federation of Phonographic Industry — 2013 Report

Even though subscription profits will grow, other new profits will have to fill the gap once subscriptions peak. The likelihood of creating these profits depends on the flexibility of businesses and their willingness to fulfill the interactive as well as technological needs of its users. This adaptability and foresight could save the music industry another huge headache (also avoiding whipping nunchuck blows to the head would help).

Take Spotify’s acquisition of music data giant Echo Nest who services clients such as Rhapsody, Rdio, and Vevo for example. Echo Nest uses its user information to improve recommendations for its clients’ listeners.

At a SXSW talk earlier this year its director of developer platform Paul Lamere mentioned that even though people listen to music in pretty much the same way they have for the past 35 years—press play, pause, create play lists, shuffle, repeat—it’s time to move beyond that and revolutionize the way people let music into their lives.

“I think the next step in the music revolution is changing how we interact with music.” — Paul Lamere

He says that the next step is for subscription services to make recommendations based on what users are doing and where they are—contextual and personalized playlists. It’s 6am and you need a service that knows you have a higher preference for classical rather than heavy metal at the crack of dawn.

He shared Echo Nest’s Music Popcorn. The bubbly chart helps users explore music while engaging them. In a study by UK Advertising firm Emap, it was surmised that four different types of music listeners exist. Savants (spend the most money on music), indifferents (spend the least), then enthusiasts and casuals fit right between the two. Giving users, that are indifferent to music but enjoy other media such as games, the ability to interact with something such as The Tokyo Tune Train gets them more involved in the music discovery process.

Scott Snibbe Studios adds another layer to things by allowing listeners to become active participants in the creative process. Their aesthetically tantalizing applications allow users to create then share via social networks and email. Their amalgamation of music and visualizations reach into the world of interactive art as technological phenomena.

Beck remixes Phillip Glass. Application by Snibbe Studios
Bands find new ways to interact with their fans

Smart phones and advanced sensor technology from devices such as Up, Fitbit, and Pebble will bring in a new era of data collection. They’ll learn to contextualize your day-to-day life and personalize events. Their accuracy will only improve with time and advancements. Technology will understand you better than you thought it could—like something from another dimension (Twilight Zone theme plays).

If that weren’t enough it will also be available on wheels. Mercedes-Benz is working on their predictive user experience which could figure out who’s in the car and where you want to go by detecting phones, passengers, and routine patterns.

Imagine the world that Spike Jonze created in the movie “Her”. Never mind the premise of Joaquin Phoenix’s character falling for an operating system (OS) played by Scarlett Johansen’s voice (okay, we’ll let that one slide). There’s a beach scene where the OS composes an original piano piece tailored right for the moment.

The movie personifies a computer program’s ability to learn about its user with an OS getting to know someone intimately. The idea is by no means close to substituting the trials and tribulations of actual human experiences but it does seem to leave open the promise of a more enriched user experience which brings technology closer to place where the line between human and user experience begins to blur.

Whether it’s by engagement, interaction, or learning about it’s users, the music and tech industries have a lot of time to spend together learning about us.

Bonus: If that’s not enough, here’s another look at what the folks at Snibbe Studios have been up to (don’t worry, your dreams of being the wizard in Fantasia will soon be fulfilled).

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