More Thoughts on Music Streaming

On our long-running thread on Rdio we’ve been talking a lot about artist fairness. While that’s certainly a major issue, my original point was that digital streaming is so persuasive that it will inevitably dominate the market of music consumption. It hasn’t exactly been an overnight success, but as I see countless Facebook friends and relatives “fall” to Spotify, it pretty much goes without saying that streaming is on its way to becoming the definitive platform consumers prefer for music.

Friends and family often ask me what I think of Spotify just when they’re dipping their toe into the waters of streaming. I’m actually more like a Rdio evangelist. And for the record, it seems unfair that Spotify is the dominator and Rdio the niche. I’ve come to the conclusion that digital streaming technology is so persuasive and such a revelation that whatever platform a consumer encounters first will be the one they likely stick with. For me that was Rdio as I dived into this before Spotify was even available in the US. At this point there’s still plenty of market-share up for grabs. I think that’s why we’re seeing Rdio billboards in Times Square. But Spotify has a huge brand advantage as their name seems to have become ubiquitous with streaming.

I’ve also realized that most people don’t listen to music the way I do (obsessively, as foreground and always looking for something new and unexpected). Rdio makes discovery of new music very easy and social. Spotify appeals more to people who prefer an iTunes approach. As I never loved iTunes, defecting to Rdio was quite simple as it has it’s own UI paradigm. Although I can’t understand it, iTunes is/was the preferred music consumption UI and that is part of Spotify’s advantage. Whereas Rdio is a greater (dare I say braver) leap into the new world of music streaming, Spotify eases new-comers in by simply not being that radical.

Beyond my digression into brand loyalties, the larger point is that consumers LOVE music streaming. In spite of all the moaning about artists not seeing money from streaming, this is the platform the consumers have chosen (or will choose). When it does become totally widespread and consumers are all paid subscribers (just like they pay/paid for cable) there simply must be a way to pay out viable incomes to those artists who have warranted it. The fact that you can find most major artists an streaming platforms means that major labels see the potential. The equation works for them and it works for consumers. It’s only a matter of time before it works for artists.

Trouble seeing through The Cloud

A year and a half ago I wrote about my desire to self-host in Your Own Personal Cloud. Terry Madley got me wanting to write about this again when I saw his trackback when he reblogged my original post. I think we started on some interesting discussion. The Cloud is even more pervasive now. I admit, in many aspects of my digital life, I have been engulfed. Where to even begin?

A year and a half ago I wrote about my desire to self-host in Your Own Personal Cloud. Terry Madley got me wanting to write about this again when I saw his trackback when he reblogged my original post. I think we started on some interesting discussion. The Cloud is even more pervasive now. I admit, in many aspects of my digital life, I have been engulfed. Where to even begin?

Media

There are aspects of The Cloud where I gladly must wave a white flag of surrender. Mainly in the realm of media. It simply makes no sense at the moment to host video on one’s own web host. If this era of the web is all about User Experience, slow media consumption is simply unacceptable. I don’t do much video so this is one area where I simply don’t care. But I do lots of audio/music. I’ve been won over by SoundCloud. It does limit the amount of audio I can store unless I subscribe, but by keeping things lean I get to all the benefits/speed of The Cloud for free. This feeling of Cloud benevolence does not exactly extend to images. That’s a nice segway to a minor triumph over The Cloud.

Flickr Defection

Flickr. What comes to mind? A dying web brand? For me, it means my content being held hostage in The Cloud. Flickr WAS great. Unfortunately it appears to be in (slow) decline. This is a great lesson in what can happen when you outsource responsibility for your content. My wife has taken thousands of amazing pictures from our travels around the globe. Well, due to our being a bit transient, we nearly forgot to pay the premium Flickr bill one year. That was a close call. We would have lost all that data, tagging and hours of time poured into cataloging of our travel photos. The revelation for me was that if Flickr was going to be a crap social network, it really has very little reason to exist. Why not just self-host all these photos like we should have in the first place?

Without the phenomenal obfuscation layer of the Flickr interface, what are we trying to do here? Simply put our photos on the web in an easy way to view. WordPress is great at this. It’s even better with their Jetpack plugin which can do exactly what Flickr does: show what camera the photo was taken on, photo captions and most impressively serve up different photo sizes based on what device you’re viewing the photo on. Something new that Jetpack does is allow you to cache images on WordPress.com servers. I don’t know why they’re not charging for this but I’m thankful they’re not. This means you get great image load speed despite being on a regular host.

So that’s all great if I were starting from day one and had never posted any images to Flickr. Unfortunately we’re years into this with thousands of images locked up in Flickr. A very, very good soul, Bradt, has created a plugin for WordPress, Flickr to WP, that makes migrating from Flickr to WordPress delightfully easy. It’s scandalous that it only has 736 downloads. I would put this in my top 5 WordPress plugins of all time. So I tried it. And it worked like a dream. I got all the photos, captions, sets and photo camera slugs. Unbelievable. It remains to be seen what we’ll do next. Being designers, we need to put creative care into the site these photos now live on so it may be awhile before its ready to show.

Whatever happened to software?

I’m a designer. I use lots of software to do my work with. Suddenly there are a slew of essential apps that can only be utilized via The Cloud. A few are BrowserStack (for proofing websites on all browsers via real computers remotely) and InvisionApp (for sharing design prototypes with clients and collecting feedback). These are amazing uses of The Cloud. There’s more out there that is very tempting. Interestingly, Adobe Creative Cloud Suite are not true Cloud apps, however the pricing method is. This brings me to a gripe.

The more software goes Cloud the more our personal finances bleed out, little by little, every month. Every great Cloud app or service is a monthly fee. It’s a genius pricing model actually.  They have found a way to lock in customers indefinitely.

Here’s one of my replies to Terry Madley which sums up my feelings on this matter:

I’ve been meaning to write about something regarding Cloud backlash. In the earlier days of personal computers and the web the financial model was very much centered on ownership. Now everything cloud is subscription based. It’s actually a much better business model because businesses never lose touch with the consumer. But the downside for consumers is this compounding of cloud services…things we need…but like you said, things that are for the most part disconnected from each other. And to my original personal cloud point…there is lost accountability. The more cloud services you have the more diluted and less organized and less responsible for your own data you become—not to mention the bleeding of one’s personal finance in daily expenses (this particularly hits home for me…i can’t not subscribe to certain things for work…but they are adding up tremendously). At least if the Personal Cloud remains viable enough costs are magnificently contained. 1 hosting bill and WordPress = free. And thankfully most premium WordPress plugins are not sold as subscriptions. You buy it, you own it. Hopefully that remains although subscription seems more lucrative over the long haul.

I guess what I’m saying is that it’s a love/hate thing when it comes to Cloud Apps. I just can’t subscribe to them all. It’s the same reason I love Rdio and hate iTunes. I simply can’t buy all the songs I listen to. But on Rdio, at least I can listen to them! (Or maybe that’s a bad point because I’m paying good Cloud subscription money for the Rdio privilege—but undoubtably less than I would on iTunes for much less music consumption.) Perhaps, as the world of web apps gets more compounded, there needs to be some kind of aggregate which gives one access to lots of software instead of me bleeding out money every which way. I love BrowserStack but I only use it maybe once a month during that phase of a project. Is it really worth the $20/mo to me? Maybe it is for now. When IE in all its forms finally dies it’s final death or is sued out of existence in a class action lawsuit by legions of designers and developers who will never get their precious time back…whoops, I digress. But anyway, when all that happens I won’t need BrowserStack as much anymore. Yes, Adobe Creative Cloud could be one primitive incarnation of this cloud software pricing model. Even though it’s more money than I’m comfortable paying out a month, unlimited access to all Adobe Software for $50/mo was ultimately too irresistible. But you see how that happened? One simply ends up giving in to The Cloud—because it’s just easier.

Good Cloud bad Cloud

To conclude, I suppose it’s all about discernment. Some of this Cloud stuff is good, some of it is necessary, some of it nice and some of it sucks. A good use of The Cloud is distributed media (Netflix, Rdio, Spotify). I’m a huge advocate of streaming because the consumer actually does get more for their money and it reduces the cultural desire for pirated media. Necessary is of course my spiel on web apps. Nice is perhaps services like SoundCloud and YouTube. I don’t know if I made a great case that those are irreplaceable. But they do provide a better user experience to consumers of one’s content. And bad…obviously Flickr. But here’s the thing, Flickr was/is huge. Just like Myspace and Friendster at one time. We entrust precious things to these nebulous Cloud entities. But can you really trust that they’re still going to be there years from now? If you self-host, the organizational and control equation gets a lot simpler. The reality is you’re going to bleed money in this internet world. But perhaps a better investment is in a good personal host over the long haul.

How much my music earns for digital Streams

I’ve had the unpromoted album “Soul Food” by my old band Japan Seoul available for streaming for quite some time. There’s been some interesting discussion about how little artists make off of streaming. Damon Krukowski stated he’s taking in $0.004611. I, an artist without a label (or any fans for that matter), seem to be doing better streaming than the great Galaxy 500. Below are the latest digital streaming returns from Spotify, Rdio and Rhapsody. It’s interesting that I’m getting nearly a penny per stream with Rhapsody, while Spotify is paying out the least. Rather unfairly, CD Baby counts sales to iTunes as digital distribution sales. Thus it’s hard to get a total accounting of how much I’ve made in total on these records purely streaming. I can say to date that with two records on CD Baby (Japan Seoul “Soul Food” and Music For Girls), one since ’07, I’ve made a total of $38.72. I do believe that a large chunk of that is from streaming because Soul Food had been on Spotify and Rhapsody for years before I was even familiar with those services. I certainly don’t mean to complain. I’m glad the stuff is out there. The truth is I never promoted these records when they were new. I’ve got an EP in the oven and I do plan on putting a much greater effort to get that one heard. Without further adieu here’s some recent streaming data from CD Baby.

More Spotify (to show mysterious price fluctuation for streams):

Response to: “The Trichordist | Artists For An Ethical Internet” from a Streamer

The Trichordist | Artists For An Ethical Internet.

On the issue of Google and large tech corporate entities leaching off of artists through ads and search on pirating websites I wholeheartedly agree. It sucks. Shame on them. On the issue of individual ethics, I half-heartedly agree. If David Lowery truly believes downloading pirated music is as evil as internet child pornography then we do indeed have a case for an ethical argument. However, the mechanism of media delivery does not police pirated music (I assume it does police for child pornography to some extent). With the current internet infrastructure we have to somehow believe we’re doing wrong by simply doing what we do on the web – mainly searching for information, documents and media. That simply can’t be wrong at its core. Lowery asks us, the internet user, to take the burden of understanding the bewilderingly complex music industry past and present to understand the implications for doing what we would do. In the case of Emily White, Lowery tries to co-opt her conflicted feelings to his agenda which is simply a rather antiquated idea that people should pay for music like they used to.

There’s simply no going back. However, there is going forward. We all want the artists to be paid. But the mechanism is broken. It is out of sync with the way we actually use the internet. There is a lot of tech talk about user experience on the web. Frankly, the user experience of buying/downloading music is off. A bad user experience usually equals failure for a web startup. Yet the music industry and David Lowery want us to settle for the sub-par UX of iTunes because it is the most “ethical”.

David Lowery is very critical of streaming music platforms such as Spotify and Rdio in some of his other posts. What he doesn’t give credit for is that streaming music platforms are amazing tools for discovery. And guess what, they are perfectly legal. I pay $18/mo to Rdio for a family plan and my wife and I get an all-you-can-eat buffet of music. This invariably means that I (especially) listen to a lot of bad music trying to find the unknown diamonds in the rough. But I like that I can simply go through and discover music without relying on blogs, social media and hype. The discovery is simply me finding artists I like. Although Lowery downplays the significance of shows, when I find music I really like through Rdio I am most likely to pay the $20-$50 to see that band play live when they come around. That to me seems like a better take than iTunes where I’m much less likely to discover new music.

Ultimately streaming exposes that we don’t need to buy distributed music the way we used to. We don’t own it, never did and never will. The artist should be paid for the usage of their IP and streaming music services make that very very easy. Granted the field is so new it’s hard to say how lucrative this can be. But if everyone gets on board with streaming how could it not be lucrative?

I think streaming music makes piracy obsolete. Why? Because the user experience of streaming music platforms is a million times better than sifting through the nether-worlds of torrents. It’s probably cost-effective because you don’t need to worry about getting storage for all your downloads. Boy will that add up.

So to David Lowery I’d suggest getting on board with music streaming and finding ways to make it profitable for artists. I think the streaming community, this new generation, can really support that. Don’t guilt them into using an antiquated tool. This is not really about ethics even though the music industry needs to frame it that way to (frighteningly) get legal power to stiffen what they don’t like about how people use the internet.

When Google Apps Go Down…

I’ve expressed interest in using a service besides Gmail for my email for awhile now. Today Google apps Gmail went down. That’s the equivalent of a blackout for me. When things like that happen I’m reminded of what I dislike about Google products. I pay for several digital services, hosting comes to mind. The customer service I get for these services is nothing short of spectacular. Even during crippling hosting outages I usually get prompt replies sent by real customer support staff. That kind of service is worth paying for. I would be willing to pay a little something for real customer service for Google products.

Instead what I get with Google products is ads in my email, difficult interfaces to navigate and no clear way to get help when I need it. Every time I want to get a different email client I’m reminded that inspite of the awful interface decisions made on Gmail the actual search technology behind it is second to none. So they’ve got us, ads and all.

Sadly I have no brand loyalty to Google like I probably do to Apple. But the truth is I need it as much as I need Apple. I guess I don’t like being in a position with no alternatives. I hope some clever startup comes up with a better way to do email and blows Gmail out of the water (and soon!)