[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>

Steve Barbone

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  
the rest.

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  
my earphones.

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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