THE iTunes store is ten years old next month. It is poetic that this anniversary has coincided almost exactly with the collapse of HMV, the old music industry lying down to die and let the new one take over.
Will iTunes lose its throne too? If it fails to keep up with changing listening habits as HMV did, yes it will. And listening habits are continuing to change. While the BPI said last month than one in five consumers now buys only digital music, it also reported that streaming was up by 60 per cent last year. So, increasingly, people are not buying songs by the individual download but buying access to an enormous library of music. In the future, instead of a record collection everyone will have their own radio station.
This, obviously, could make Spotify the new iTunes, perhaps within the next couple of years. Spotify’s current challenge is to make its service more manageable. Keeping an iTunes collection in some kind of order can be tricky enough; trying to negotiate an archive of millions of songs you didn’t individually buy is something else entirely. The future, it would seem, is a user-friendly combination of a Spotify-like service and a Facebook-like service – an instantly accessible, personalised online radio station playlisted by you, your friends, and your favourite musicians. Spotify is trying to make something like this. So is MySpace. If someone else can do it better, that’s where the money will go.
Personally, I mostly gave up buying music years ago. Initially it was because, as an arts journalist, I got sent enough promos to keep my ears busy. Now, though, there’s more instantly available free music online than I ever got sent on CD. YouTube, in particular, offers a very convenient global jukebox, especially now that it plays whole albums.
If I buy music at all, it’s limited editions by indie musicians, where the money goes straight to the artist. The last thing I bought for myself was, of all things, a cassette by Edinburgh experimental musician Wounded Knee. It came wrapped in a piece of tweed.
Aren’t musicians suffering from all this? Well, I am one and yes they are, having been robbed by the secretive licensing deals made between record labels and Spotify, whose boss Daniel Ek has made £190 million from music in just six years without, as far as I know, ever writing any. Part of me thinks that, rather than getting endlessly angry/depressed about how little money recorded music is now earning, all musicians should just resign themselves to making money some other way, and give all their music away for free – just not to Spotify or iTunes. And yes, I know this isn’t going to happen.