Twisted City by Chris Singleton - album sleeve

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Entries in free music (1)



A while ago I wrote about the future of rock and roll. The future, in my view, was that that rather than being bought, music would either be swapped for data (email addresses), or would be provided through an on-demand streaming service where listeners stream tracks for free so long as they listen to ads.

The 'music for data' half of that future arrived a while ago, with Radiohead's 'honesty box' release, In Rainbows; the second half has now arrived too, with the release of Spotify.

Spotify is a program which, once installed on your computer, allows you to legally stream pretty much any song you want (using an iTunes-style interface). But every three songs or so, you have to listen to an advert before you can play another track. Alternatively, you can pay £9.99 a month to listen to as much ad-free music as you like (about the cost of a newly-released chart cd).

Spotify represents a revolution in how we consume music - and if this way of listening to music becomes the norm (which I'm pretty confident it will), the implications for the music industry are enormous. There are three areas which I think will be particularly affected.

First, I've got a feeling that Spotify will slowly spell the end of the line for iTunes and other digital download services. Ok, so you can't currently download anything from Spotify on to an MP3 player - you have to play tracks through a computer that's connected to the internet. But that scenario is likely to change quite quickly, thanks to mobile broadband connections. If people can start streaming music from the internet onto their mobile phones using Spotify and 3G connections, then the need for MP3s becomes redundant (indeed, a Spotify application for the iPhone is already being discussed).

The second big impact is going to be on radio stations that primarily broadcast music. If a mobile phone version of Spotify comes along, you can pretty much take any music with you, anywhere. I'd be amazed if this didn't have an impact on the likes of Radio 1 and Radio 2. They might have to change their content somewhat to attract new listeners - I can imagine a lot more chat or documentaries about particular artists becoming a part of their schedules, to compensate for the fact that people are getting their music on the go elsewhere.

Finally, it's going to impact artists. If Spotify or a similar service becomes the de facto way to listen to music, then the whole idea of physical album sales is finally dead. Musicians will generate income from each play on Spotify - the PRS will make sure of that - but I doubt it will be as much as the income that physical cds used to bring in. Also, if the number of people who listen to radio stations falls, then so will royalties, so it will be hard for us rock and rollers to make money that way too.

Ultimately what all this spells for artists is that in future, the real money is going to be in gigging. Instead of record deals, we'll be looking for promoters to put us on a tour - in fact, I think the record companies are slowly morphing into promoters.

That's because a live performance by your favourite band in a real venue is one thing that the internet can't yet provide...but watch this space.

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