When I was in High School, Napster was the coolest “computer application” on Earth. Sharing and downloading music, for free, had changed the world. From pillow fights with Metallica to the rise and fall of copycats like Limewire, Napster disrupted the web, the music industry, and the tech industry. Today, the Napster logo still represents music, but it doesn’t represent what it used to represent back then: Freedom.
Fast forward to today.
Spotify, the mythological creature of music streaming, is allegedly coming to the U.S. tomorrow, and rumor is it will be integrated into Facebook soon after.
Pandora, a public company (let me repeat: a public company) birthed out of the “Music Genome Project,” just recently redesigned its site to allow you to go “back” on your browser and provide a deeper social experience inspired by good ol’ photo social network Instagram, among other changes.
(And in related news, I haven’t bought a CD in three years. If I’ve paid for any songs online, it can’t be more than a dozen or two.)
So what does this mean? Spotify coming to the U.S. after what seemed like decades of waiting and Pandora going public and adding a social layer of its own are clear signs that the days of music ownership, at least in the traditional way, are numbered. Music streaming means you can’t download, but it also means you no longer have to.
Of course, many are skeptic.
Some say that only the giants (Google Music, Amazon Music, iTunes) have a seat at the exclusive musical table in the cloud and that streaming music will be costly, squashing the little guys in the process. Others complain about functionality and details and privacy and control and lack of subway access. And while geeks discuss the cloud, the masses show that AM/FM/?M is just fine and that $2 downloads is more than fine in 2011.
But all I can think of is this: Freedom.
I don’t really care about showing off CDs and LPs in my living room, and I don’t really want to “own” music that’s just taking space in my hard drive. I don’t ever care about high quality that much.
Music is to be listened to, not to waste physical and digital space! What I care about is freedom to listen to what I want, whenever and wherever I want at the lowest possible cost. And the best solution to this is streaming online music.
If Spotify gives me 20 hours, I’ll take those, thank you very much. Pandora offers a few more hours and throws some social recommendations? Sounds great. I will take those too. Last.fm and Turntable.fm want to offer me a few more songs for free? Sure, why not. And for the rest of the time (or maybe most of the time), I will keep using my beloved Grooveshark, which I use almost every day even though it has “social” features that I could not care less about.
If the past couple of years are an indication of the future of online music streaming, then we can be sure that there will be more options; differentiated and free options. And with multiple options I can assure you that I, like many others, will switch from Napster to Limewire to Last.fm to Pandora to Google Music to Grooveshark to whatever service offers me this: Freedom.