Music Industry Forecast: Cloudy

The music industry is in upheaval. Just look at the revenue projections – continued decline. The old model doesn’t work and, in desperation, the industry has tried many new models on for size: a la carte downloads, subscription services, ad-supported streaming. With the exception of iTunes, no one has had runaway success with any of these approaches.  So what’s next for the music industry?  Look to the clouds.

This week, TechCrunch, posted an insightful entry from digital music veteran Michael Robertson on Apple’s secret cloud strategy with iTunes and why their recent acquisition of LaLa is so critical. Like many, I assumed the acquisition was to further the development of the long anticipated subscription-based music service – like Rhapsody, Spotify, etc. Turns out this speculation is far from reality and there is no subscription-based service coming down the pike from Apple. The secret sauce to the Lala acquisition is actually it’s personal music storage service, which provides software to store a personal music library online and then play it from any web browser alongside web songs they vend.

The expectation is that Apple will unveil a mobile iTunes sometime in 2010 that will leverage Lala’s technology to copy users’ personal music libraries to the net (or cloud), making it available from any browser or net connected ipod/touch/tablet/computer. Once loaded, users will be able to navigate and play their music, videos and playlists from their personal URL using a browser based iTunes experience. Pretty cool, huh? The cloud-centric model is not lost on others in the space.  The acquisition of Lala will just help Apple get there first – again.

iTunes Rumored to Launch Subscription Model – Finally!

I read today on the ListeningPost about rumors that iTunes is planning to launch an unlimited music subscription service in late October with the release of iTunes 7.8.  It’s reported the annual subscription fee will be $130/year (or $100 for MobileMe subscribers) and will give users the ability to download to nearly half of all the songs in the iTunes store in a 256-Kbps format.  The other half apparently will require a new deal with copyright holders.

It sounds like the model will operate similar to Rhapsody.  Subscription songs would be playable in iTunes and would be transportable and playable on certain devices – namely the iPod and iPhone.  According to the tipster, when you log on to iTunes, you will get the option to ‘Buy’ (purchase and keep) or ‘Get’ your music (download and Play throughout iTunes Unlimited Subscription).

Hooray for Apple for taking a step in the right direction. I’ve long been a proponent of the subscription-based music model and a huge fan of services like Rhapsody.  It just makes sense.  And with the emergence of even more technologies like Topspin, we will see more and more artist going direct to fans with subscription-based offers.

Now if only Apple would budge on their DRM policy and move to pure MP3s.

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Pandora Ranks as Top iPhone App

Techcrunch reported that Pandora is currently the fourth most popular free app on iTunes (behind Apple’s Remote, AIM, and WeatherBug), and has reportedly been seeing a new listener every 2 seconds. Usage over the weekend hit an all-time high for the service, with 3.3 million tracks streamed to iPhone listeners alone. Perhaps more impressive is the retention rate of listeners, who are averaging over an hour of listening per day.

The Pandora music stream is great on the new iPhones with the 3G and Edge networks.  Between the iPhone and Sonos Digital Music System, music lovers are no longer tied to their computer to enjoy the benefits of Pandora’s personalized music recommendation service.  Rock on.

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Rhapsody Launches Beta MP3 Store

Anyone who knows me is well aware of how big a fan I am of Rhapsody.  It’s one of my essential tools for digesting and discovering new music.  The music subscription service model has always made a lot of sense to me and I believe is a model we’re going to see a lot more of.  Especially as more and more artists attempt to circumvent labels and go direct to fans (with the help of technology like Topspin).  

After all, why wouldn’t you want to pay $12/month to access a virtual unlimited amount of music – anywhere, anytime.  It’s beautiful.  Especially when leveraged through the Sonos Digital Music System (in which Rhapsody is already integrated).  I have an ongoing Rhapsody playlist of new music that I add to whenever I hear or read about a new artist.  Then I just queue up the playlist and listen to it whenever I’m at work or futzing around the house.  With the combination of Rhaspody and Sonos, listening to music is no longer a dedicated form of entertainment.  

Finally, Rhapsody has added an MP3 download component, without all the DRM (Digital Rights Management) hassles like Apple iTunes.  (Which means when you download a track or album you can do whatever you want with it – no proprietary formats, limited sharing, etc.)  I still love eMusic and inSound for their great selection of Indie music.  But I find that Rhapsody is the ideal platform for most of my music research.  I’m very happy about this new MP3 service and hope that the the next iteration with include the option for monthly download bundles as part of my subscription.  🙂

Goodbye iTunes, Helloooo Songbird

I’ve been keeping an eye on Songbird for a while but was always a bit intimidated to try it out. A fractional (v 0.5) developer release with nightly builds? Come on, that’s a bit scary for the average bear. I finally installed it this weekend and can honestly say I have arrived at the pearly gates of music heaven.  

Developed by a group calling themselves ‘Pioneers of the Inevitable’ (love it), Songbird is a free open source media player and web browser rolled into one.  It’s like the power of iTunes and Firefox combined.  Not only can you manage and play your own music, now you can play the web too.  

For example, any media files stored on a website will show up as a playable file in the Songbird application that you can download or save to your library.  Even better, it has a built-in RSS subscription and MP3 file download so now you can subscribe to your favorite MP3 blogs as playlists!  Plus, it’s already integrated with HypeMachine, eMusic and InSound.  To get a better sense of all the features, watch their online demo here.

The potential of the application is mind boggling.  Just today I added the mashTape add-on that shows tour dates, photos, lyrics and videos of the artist currently playing and I thought my head was going to explode.  Now if they would only integrate with Sonos…..

Go get it now!

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