Music News

Streaming Music: The Wave of the Future or Stupid Fad (opinion)

For over a decade there have been several music streaming services that have come and gone. Some are really amazing, and some are just downright stupid. Admittedly our own streaming player is not the most ideal but we have gotten some great feedback and have tried to make it the best service we can offer with limited (more like no) development resources.

But the fact remains that streaming service is growing in popularity. With a new player in the game, BeatsMusic being launched earlier this month it looks like this trend is not going away anytime soon. However, let’s look a bit more at what people really want from streaming music and ask ourselves, “Do we really give a shit about which music streaming service we use!?!” I think the answer to this is a resounding “No!”

I’m not sure what kind of music you listen to nor do I know how you listen to your music. When we started thinking about how we were going to launch the streaming music service we didn’t factor in anything really. My thought was, “Let me just upload a ton of incredible music like a playlist and hopefully people will listen.” And they have. We didn’t ask people what they liked. We posted what we liked. As a result we are not a major player in the music streaming world. However, we never strived to be. We just wanted to create a site and a service that we enjoyed. If a few people dug it then great. If not, we’re not upset. We didn’t set out to make things more prolific or game changing.

For me music is more than just some songs I listen to. It has to match my mood; compliment it. If it doesn’t then I really could give a shit if the music being played is curated by some algorithm or curated by a human being. I have an eclectic taste in music so any music service I use has be just as eclectic as that taste or it doesn’t really matter to me. Which goes back to my initial question. Do we really give a shit about the music streaming service we use?

The one service I’ve always enjoyed is Pandora. I can create a vast array of stations and the more I listen to them the more Pandora’s algorithm learns what I like and don’t like based on whether I click a thumbs up or down. This means that I will have a great listening experience the more I use Pandora and for the most part that’s been true. I’m sure I’m the exception to this but I imagine this model works for Pandora since they are seeing some great growth over the past few years despite a more crowded field of competitors.

Now let’s look at the new player in the crowded field, Beats Music. Full disclaimer, I love Beats Music. I think the design of the app is beautiful. It’s simple, it’s easy to navigate, and it’s easy to use. I also know people in the team that were directly involved in building this service. Is that enough to separate me from my money to pay for the monthly service? Absolutely not. Does it matter to me that a human curated the music vs. some mathematical algorithm? Not at all. In fact, I feel like it makes it worse. Because at the end of the day it’s just another service that curates existing music. It does nothing to advance the music industry. It does nothing to change the way we listen to music. Why? Because no matter what kind of service is presented to us we will always listen to music the way we always have. We listen to what we like. Like I said, I prefer to listen to Pandora since it at least makes an effort to learn what I like over time. Whether I put in a sentence like mad libs in the hopes that Beats will know what I want to listen to is irrelevant to me.

The other issue I have with Beats is that it seems to just be riding on the coat tails of the people behind the brand. Dr. Dre, Jimmy Lovine, and Trent Reznor have put their name behind this in hopes that their name will draw music fans to their service. However, unlike the tangible Beats headphones, people do not care about what brand they use to listen to their music. Brand identity in the music streaming space is not important to the music fan. Only the music.

When someone walks down the street with Beats headphones I just shake my head. They don’t sound any better than anything else that is out there in the market. Bose, JBL, Sony, and others have done great a great job at making headphones that sound great and don’t look silly. So why do thousands of people continue to pay unreasonable prices for Beats headphones? Brand identity. It’s the reason Nike and other big brands have a fan base. They have done a great job getting the word out and making people think that owning Beats headphones are cool.

I actually own a Beats by Dre Beatbox. I love it. However, compared to the other brands out there it is nothing prolific. It sounds great. The sound fills the room, but so does Sonos, Samsung, and Bose. So why did I buy it? I felt like it was a good enough deal to buy it. I didn’t base my decision around how cool it would look in my house to have a Beatbox. If you know me then you know this doesn’t matter to me. In fact, I’m sitting in a coffee house right now listening to my music on $10 earbuds.

When Napster began in the 90’s we were all amazed that we could now have our music on a file rather than some clunky CD. It was a game changer. It changed how we listened to music but it didn’t change the way we listened to music. We still listen to what we liked. However, now we had to deal with something we really didn’t know much about, quality. Mp3 sound like shit. They are compressed, tinny, and devoid of depth. And if you were born in the 90’s chances are mp3s are all you’ve known. You’ve never known how great a CD sounds or, even better, how a vinyl record sounds.

So now you put on your overpriced Beats by Dre headphones and you think to yourself, “Holy shit! This sounds incredible!” However, you’re still listening to that shitty mp3 that has been compressed until it’s shitting orange juice. Music streaming service quality is no different. With the increased bandwidth in the US we are now seeing better quality but it is still a 320kb mp3 file that you’re listening to. It has the same audio codec on the backend that you’re used to.

When you are at home and you have a collection of music what do you do? You either listen to an entire album or you create a playlist of the music you like to listen to based on your mood or what you’d like to hear in that particular moment. How can an algorithm predict how our brain will fill us with the desire to listen to a certain song? It just can’t. We have our preferences and that’s just how our brain works.

One of the best studies around how the human brain works and how we process music was an article written by David Byrne. He wrote that sometimes you just don’t want to hear anything but that, more importantly, music has become intrusive especially when it’s not something you can control yourself. This goes back to my point about any streaming service out there. Essentially we want to have some control over what we listen to or we tune out and become disinterested.

While the field of music streaming services increases the one question that these services fail to answer is why a computer or a human can give us a better music listening experience or if we even care. iTunes did one thing. It changed the way we listen to music in that we no longer buy full albums. Most of us will buy the tracks we like and then put those tracks into a playlist of other tracks we dig. Streaming music services are not prolific. They are not changing the way we listen to music. They are not helping further a very broken industry. And more importantly they are not putting money into the hands of the bands that create the music (that is a topic for another post).

I realize this post is not going to make people very happy but this post was intended to get people to think about why they would want to pay for a music streaming service when at the end of the day they do nothing to change the way we listen to music. Whether it’s a complex algorithm or a group of human curators the path taken is still the same. They are curators of the existing catalog of music we have listened to for decades. If these services want to be different they will find a way to change the way we listen to music. Whether it’s giving more control to artists and making streaming service more social or giving the listeners more control, they need to find ways to be prolific. If I want to check our curated work I’ll go to a museum. And that’s what the music industry is becoming. A virtual museum.

-JC
This article does not reflect the views of theFIVE10, theFIVE10 Radio, or its affiliates. This is an opinion piece written by its author and intended to be treated as such.

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