[Dixielandjazz] The Cloud that ate your music - Part 1
Stephen G Barbone
barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Thu Jun 23 08:08:04 PDT 2011
Band leaders: Don't make too many more CDs. <grin>
June 22, 2011 - NY TIMES PART 1
The Cloud That Ate Your Music - By JON PARELES
I’M ready for the cloud. Soon, I hope, it will be ready for me.
Recent weeks have been filled with announcements about music taking
residence in the cloud, the poetic name for online storage and
software that promises to make lifetimes worth of songs available to
anyone, anywhere, as long as those people and places have Internet
connections. (Which of course is a long way from everyone, everywhere,
but utopian tech dreams tend to ignore mere hardware.)
I can’t wait. Ever since music began migrating online in the 1990s I
have longed to make my record collection evaporate — simply to have
available the one song I need at any moment, without having to store
But I have, as they say, special needs. In three decades as a critic I
have amassed more vinyl, CDs and digital files than I know what to do
with. Periodic weeding can’t keep up with the 20 to 30 discs that
arrive in the daily mailbag; the overfull floor-to-ceiling shelves are
already straining under thousands of CDs and LPs. Any affection I had
for physical packaging, no matter how elegant or unique, has long
since vanished; it’s a reference library, not an art collection.
And it grows, and grows, because I never know what I’ll need: the
limited-edition 45, the home-burned debut CD. Yet I’d much rather have
it in the cloud than in my apartment.
In recent weeks Amazon, Google and Apple have announced services to
store individual music collections in the cloud, ready for access
online and for syncing to multiple devices.Pandora Internet radio,
which extrapolates individual playlists from users’ likes and
dislikes, raised hundreds of millions of dollars with a huge initial
public offering (followed, however, by a steep drop in stock price;
with operating costs and royalties to copyright owners, the company
has never made a profit).
Dar.fm recently arrived as a free service that records radio stations
— like TiVo for radio — and, as a bonus, conveniently indexes any
music from those stations that has been electronically tagged. (Choose
a congenial radio station and assemble a well-chosen collection.)
Other companies — Rdio, MOG, Napster, Rhapsody — have been offering
huge catalogs of music on demand (and transferable to portable
devices) for some time as subscription services for a monthly fee, and
Spotify, already online in Europe, is likely to join them in the
United States soon.
That’s not to mention the many unauthorized sources for music;
virtually any album can be found for downloading with a simple search.
Free or paid, the cloud is already active.
Dematerializing recorded music has consequences. On the positive side
it hugely multiplies the potential audience, letting the music travel
fast and far to listeners who would never have known it existed. It
escalates music’s portability, as it adds one more previously stand-
alone function — like clocks, cameras, calendars, newspapers, video
players and games — to the omnivorous smartphone. That’s instant
gratification, but with a catch: Smartphones aren’t exactly renowned
for sound quality. And the MP3 compression that has made music so
portable has already robbed it of some fidelity even before it reaches
The ritual of placing an LP on a turntable and cranking up a hi-fi
home stereo disappeared — when? Perhaps with the cassette and the
Walkman, the ancestor of the portable MP3 player. Now even the thought
of having a separate music player is a little quaint. The smartphone
will do it all — just adequately, but convenience trumps quality. Baby
boomers who remember the transistor radio, that formerly miniature
marvel that now looks and feels like a brick compared to current MP3
players, can experience again the sound of an inadequate speaker
squeezing out a beloved song.
As the last decade has abundantly proved, freeing music from discs
also drives down the price of recorded music, often to zero,
dematerializing what used to be an income for musicians and recording
companies. Royalties generated from sales of MP3 files and by online
subscription services are unlikely to ever make recorded music as
profitable as it was in disc form.
There has also been another, far less quantifiable, effect of
separating music from its physical package. Songs have become, for
lack of a better word, trivial: not through any less effort from the
best musicians, but through the unexpected combination of a nearly
infinite supply, constant availability, suboptimum sound quality and
the intangibility I’ve always thought I would welcome.
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