Please don’t stop the music

The days of CD and Vinyl, for all their collectability and value in being substantial, are numbered. Digital music is undoubtedly the future, but the recent price-war between Amazon and iTunes over download costs, and the emergence of some brand new, free, legal ‘live-streaming’ programmes such as ‘[Spotify](’, has begged the question of whether music downloading has any value any more. It would seem that many bands even are beginning to recognise a future of touring over music sales. Radiohead’s latest album, ‘In Rainbows’, released in 2007 was marketed for download practically for free, as it gave fans the option of choosing how much they paid for the album.

‘Spotify’, the front running ‘live streaming’ service, offers, to use its own slogan, “a world of music, instant, simple and free” and it undoubtedly lives up to this assertion. The programme is downloaded in moments and it requires no training or thought to make the transition from iTunes or Windows Media Player to Spotify. Also, with its ever growing, three-million strong music library, there are very few instances when it’s impossible to find the song you want. It is also free, for those willing to hear a very unobtrusive advert every 10-15minutes, (roughly every 3-5 songs). So far so good, it would seem, but there are two key problems; first of all, it isn’t making any money, and secondly, its hands are very tightly bound by the requirements of the record companies.

{{ quote Free, legal music is the future, and there will come a time when it will be possible to access all music legally and freely }}

Even now, Spotify, for all its adverts and plugging of its premium service (£9.99 per month to avoid the adverts) is not making any profits. Yet the price of its premium service may be its very problem. £9.99 per month appears to be a very steep fee for use of a service in which the adverts are unobtrusive in the least, and their infrequency means that they are no more than a very minor irritation when a transition between two good songs is interrupted by a few seconds of advertising. Even the premium service does not allow its users to download any content. Daniel Ek, the Swedish creator of the service, in a BBC interview refused to reveal how many subscribers he had to the premium service – a bad sign at any point – and also promised further advantages for the premium service over the standard free version, surely displaying the ailing nature of the fee paying sector of Spotify.

Of these ‘advantages’ the opportunity to access Spotify on your mobile phone is perhaps the most significant. At present Spotify is tied strictly to a computer with an internet connection, and there is no way to (legally) download the music from your Spotify playlists onto any MP3 player, CD or hard drive. Mr Ek has also promised better sound quality, the ability to listen to pre-released tracks, and – most ominously for users of the free service – exclusive tracks for the premium service.

The profitless business could also increase the frequency of adverts, at the behest of the record companies, in order to make usage of the free service intolerable, which would doubtlessly signal the demise of this latest attempt to provide free, legal and profitable music to the masses. Most commentators agree that Spotify’s profits lie squarely on its ability to provide mobile usage through new generation mobile phones such as the iPhone, and many are certain that users would pay for the premium service if they were not tied to their computers. An iPhone application is currently in the process of being created, and, should Spotify take off in the US – where Mr Ek plans on expanding to next, it could prove very lucrative.

What is paramount at present is that Spotify does not kill its free music service. Free, legal music is the future, and there will come a time when it will be possible to access all music legally and freely – and Spotify is providing the first steps. Spotify is popular, it is just unfortunately not profitable at present, but the company’s expansion plans and increasing bargaining power with the record companies will almost certainly see this situation turning around soon enough, and its million-strong following will certainly add weight to this fact. The music industry is on the verge of great change in the coming decades, and with Spotify’s current set-up, its popularity can only grow and free, legal music cannot be far away.


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