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If Illegal Downloads Didn’t Hurt Music Sales Do We Still Need To Go To The Cloud?

Illegal downloads are bad for music. Blah, blah, blah. Yadda yadda yadda. Like we haven’t heard that one before. You know what we haven’t heard before? That illegal downloads haven’t hurt music sales. Well, at least the claim that they haven’t hurt music sales all that much. This is the assertion being made in a new report from the London School of Economics.

According to the report, file sharing is not the enemy but the future of the music business. And illegal downloads are not the principal cause in the drop off of physical music sales. Rather, it’s “a combination of factors such as changing patterns in music consumption, decreasing disposable household incomes for leisure products and increasing sales of digital content through online platforms.” Read the whole thing if you have a minute and you have a craving for wordy dissertations on the ins and outs of digital downloads.

But wait, doesn’t this contradict everything we’ve heard about the evils of file sharing? How can the major labels, the RIAA and Metallica all be wrong? The report has come out while another file sharing storm has been brewing. But this time it’s not the anonymous hordes on the peer-to-peers fighting the established fat cat labels; this time it’s a white collar boardroom brawl.

Last month Amazon launched their Cloud Drive service which acts as a mobile, digital locker. Users can store up to 5 Gigs of media for free and can then access the files from any web connected device. Sounds great, right? Well, nearly every other player with some involvement in entertainment business, especially the music biz, are feeling, well, played.

Labels are especially upset as they argue that Amazon doesn’t have the licensing rights to offer streaming music to customers, only to sell digital downloads. Amazon, naturally, thinks otherwise, likening their service to the also free Google Docs in terms of accessible storage for subscribers of the service. Not only that, but Amazon also claims that the service has already boosted music sales on the site. Amazon wasn’t able to back up the claim with hard numbers, though.

Cloud computing. Is it really the wave of the future or is it a trendy buzz word—a piece of fodder for the hype machine? Some might be a little unsure of the benefits of heading “to the cloud” but that doesn’t change  that everyone’s trying to get in on the ground floor. How does this affect music? Well, everyone’s trying to sell music too. Or if not sell it, at least offer it to people. Sony just launched their Music Unlimited service for PSP users, allowing users to stream music to the hand-held console for $3.99 a month. Industry titans like Google and Apple also have cloud-based services similar to Amazon’s Cloud Drive in the works and iTunes users can already stream their music to other devices… if they’re recent generation Apple Products.

All signs point to file sharing as the digital wave of the future. Analog will always carry a charm, a certain nostalgia. But come on. Getting your files anywhere on nearly any device as part of a freemium or nearly free service? I mean, what beats that?!

That said, the labels have a valid argument in all this. While the reasons for the drop in sales are and forever will be in dispute, facts are facts. Sales of music are down, overall. Labels are going to fight tooth and nail for every available dollar and they have a valid concern if they’re not going to get licensing dollars for streaming music. Amazon is just the first to really dip their toes into the water. If they don’t need to pay the labels to store and stream the music, as they claim, then that would open up the floodgates for numerous copycat competitors. The National Music Publishers Association brought a concern for a more sympathetic group with a stake in all this: the songwriters. One of the main issues is the filtering of content and lack thereof. What’s to stop a user from illegally downloadingmusic and then uploading it to the Cloud Drive service? As of this moment, it appears that there isn’t.

Amazon and representatives from labels met last week to further discuss what the terms of the service to further work out the kinks. While Amazon does acknowledge that there might be future functionality to be added to their Cloud Drive, they’ve made it known that they’re not interested in paying anything extra to stream music to their users. Still, the future of cloud computing looks bright, ironically enough.

The Great Race To The Cloud

Nothing is more frustrating than downloading a song on your phone and having it stranded there, except for maybe losing your hard drive and saying goodbye to your long-coveted music library. Apple, Google and Amazon have been working on solutions to these problems and more in the form of cloud-based music services. Google and Apple have been hung up on some minor details, called music licenses, but Amazon decided to bypass all of that nonsense and released their service last Tuesday.

Amazon’s Cloud Player and Cloud Drive have already caught a lot of flak from the music industry, and it’s bound to get worse with time. When Billboard asked Amazon’s director of music, Craig Pape, about skipping the licensing step, his answer was concise: “We don’t believe we need licenses to store the customers’ files. We look at it the same way as if someone bought an external hard drive and copy files on there for backup.” Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. The main issues stem from the fact that users can upload their music to the company’s servers. Record companies are concerned about users uploading illegally downloaded content, which is a reasonable concern, and a Sony spokesperson said “we’re keeping all of our legal options open.” One senior music executive even went as far as calling the service “legalized murder.” Amazon’s Terms of Use prohibit the uploading of illegal music, but if the debate ends up in court it will be interesting to see if Amazon protects its users or turns them over to the labels.

The industry implications of Amazon’s Cloud Player are huge. If they manage to evade a lawsuit, or if the courts decide that what they’re doing is legal, it can set a precedent for all future cloud-based services. Music piracy has been on the decline since LimeWire closed up shop in October, but Cloud Player has the potential to turn that around pretty quickly. On top of that, it would give Amazon a big leg up on Google and Apple who have yet to finalize their services. If you ask us, though, a lawsuit against Amazon is all but inevitable.

Digital Music Debacle

By 2015, the digital music industry will swell by sixty percent to a total of $20 billion in global revenue. At least that’s what London based research firm Ovum claimed in a recently released report. Ovum’s theory is largely based around the anticipation of launches, from both Google and Apple, of cloud–based subscription services. But are the expected launches from these technology titans as certain and imminent as Ovum believes? Maybe so.

There have been rumors and even some evidence as of late regarding Google’s intentions to introduce its own music service. “If you look at Google Mobile services [via Android] today, there’s a video service, there’s a music service—that is, there will be a music service,” says Motorola CEO Sanjay Jha. “It’s been awhile since any talk of a Google music-streaming service was discussed, although it’s apparently been in development. Yesterday’s One Pass announcement lends further credibility to the idea that Google is clearly ready to challenge Apple’s hold over the content provider-publisher relationship, and iTunes is part of this.” In case you don’t know what he’s talking about, Google’s One Pass is an online payment system for content that will allow web publishers to sell subscriptions. “We are allowing the publishers to transact directly with their customers,” Google spokesperson Jeannie Hornung told the Times. Interesting side note: Apple’s new subscription service product takes a 30 percent commission while Google One Pass only takes 10 percent.

Apple has been striving to reduce download restrictions on music bought from the iTunes store. Instead of users being limited to one download when purchasing a song, they would have access to multiple downloads across several of their devices; this would get rid the nuisance of syncing your devices. According to Social Times, Apple plans to accomplish this by building a cloud–based music storage service (centralized in North Carolina at their new $1 billion data center). Once they have this capability, Apple will be able to imitate the unlimited music streaming for a monthly subscription model that has made services like Rhapsody and Spotify popular.

If Apple and Google do indeed create music subscription services this year as speculated, it very well may cause the sixty percent surge in digital music revenue that Ovum announced. Mark Little, the author of Ovum’s report, did warn us about a potential danger as well: accepting the growth in revenue as strictly positive. “Digital music will experience what might appear to be healthy growth over the next five years, but there is a danger that this could mask the fact that the industry is not maximizing revenue potential,” Little said to New Media Age. “There’s too much free music available, and not just the illegal kind. Free Internet radio such as Pandora or Grooveshark, and freemium on-demand music services such as Spotify, are offering music without maximizing advertising or premium subscription revenues for themselves or the industry.”

New Music Biz 101: The New Social Network

In Steve Jobs’ keynote address on September 1st,Apple announced the newest social network for musicians. Since the launch of Ping, there has been a lot of controversy on the actual usefulness or value of the platform. We’re going to take a quick look at Ping from an artist perspective.

For those who don’t already know, Ping is a social network and recommendation system that allows users to follow artists and see short “Twitter-like” posts by friends and artists that they’re connected to on the network. Artist profiles aren’t as easily created as they are on MySpace, and you currently need to be approved to join.

The easiest way to get on Ping is through a company that distributes to third parties like Tunecore and Nimbit. Most of the sites that help you get your music on iTunes are now able to get your artist page up and running on Ping. When experimenting with this process, we used Nimbit to see how difficult it was to get going. We found it relatively easy to get started. It involved asking a few questions about you as an artist and Nimbit sends the information over to apple for approval. Apple then responds shortly after.

When looking at an artist profile you’re able to see an activity stream as well as upcoming concerts and a few additional links. As you can probably imagine, the artist interface includes the ability to sell your music using the iTunes store. As an artist, you’re able to upload photos, videos and text updates similarly to Facebook.

The big question of course becomes, is Ping going to be the MySpace killer? In our opinion, that is yet to be seen. Ping is very cool in theory, but has yet to show anything overly impressive. Running a social network inside of a desktop application has proven to be dangerously slow. Users really hate any site that runs slowly, and this could potentially hinder Ping’s growth. But as time goes on, the Ping user base grows. And as new updates and additions begin to be released, we’ll have a better sense of its true value.

Download of the Week: Streetlab

From the clubs of NYC we have this week’s Needle in the Haystack artist, electronic rock duo Streetlab. With multiple remix / mix tape albums and EP/LP’s available, the group landed a key placement in the Apple iPod/iPhone hit game Tap Tap Revenge 2. Streetlab has also had their songs “Supernatural” and “NYSound” placed in CSI: NY and HBO’s Entourage.  The group has even performed in the Apples store at SoHo NYC. See the video below!

For this week’s “Download of the Week,” we’ll be offering their track, “Rat Racer.” Keep an eye out for more from Streetlab in the coming days.

Generation DIY: All About Recording

Over the years, pricey studios have catered to the big fish recording artist so the idea of home-based recording seemed pretty far-fetched. For newer artists, the questions of who to record with, what studio to use and is there a cheaper and easier way to record are vital. But, in today’s do-it-yourself climate, conventional thoughts about going into a studio to work with a producer/engineer in order to create that first album or EP are rapidly changing. This is Generation DIY and we’re all about taking control, remember? So let’s take a few minutes to talk about ways you can record on your own and still get that nice studio quality sound.
Continue reading ‘Generation DIY: All About Recording’

Under Supervision: iGetSigned

OSBlog02_UnderSuperv_MASTER_01If you ever want to make in the music industry, there are a couple of roads you can take.  You can pimp yourself on social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook or Twitter.  You can tour relentlessly and earn some cred along the way.  Or, you can just get your song placed in an Apple ad, which according to Billboard is the Number 1 way to gain success and recognition in the industry.

Continue reading ‘Under Supervision: iGetSigned’

Under Supervision: Music Supervision In The Next Decade

OSBlog02_UnderSuperv_MASTER_01Imagine a commercial, movie or TV show.  Now imagine it without sound.  Not so great, huh?  All moving pictures need music to enhance it—without sound, quite frankly, they’d suck and no one would watch them.  So, the industry has music supervisors who go through the billions of albums out there and find the music to make you laugh, cry, fall in love or really, really want that iPhone.  In the past decade, the job of the music supervisor has become more important than ever as they have the power to basically create artists’ success.

Continue reading ‘Under Supervision: Music Supervision In The Next Decade’

Wanna free new iPod? Start Sorting!

Picture via Engadget.

Tech fiends and music fanatics blogged with frenzy today as Steve Jobs announced the latest line of Apple products, including new iPods.  Well, OurStage is giving you a chance to win any of the new apple products (up to $300(!) in value), and all you have to do is to try our fun new method of judging music called Sort 4!

As many of you know, for the past year, there’s only been one way to judge songs on OurStage:  Listen to two songs and say which one you like better.

But now, the geniuses in OurStage enginineering have come up with a new and improved way to judge:  Listen to four songs and sort them from best to worst.  It’s called Sort 4, and it looks somethin’ like this:

In addition to a free new iPod, the winner will also take home a free pair of MyVu glasses so they can watch movies on their face!   Here are the two ways you can win:

1)  Judge 10 times using the Sort 4 method and you’re automatically entered.  One winner will be chosen at random at the end of the month to win an iPod and MyVu glasses.

or

2) Be the one person who judges the more than anyone else using the Sort 4 method.

Ok kids.  You know the rules.  Go get ‘em!

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