Once fat and healthy, the internet in the 21st century has thrown the music industry for a loop time and time again, putting musicians and the industry that produces them in a serious identity crisis as to where the money comes from. With the invention of the iPod and eventually the iPhone, downloadable music in MP3 format became the new form, and CDs went the way of the cassette tape. Vinyl strangely came back into vogue as a counter-cultural music fan move to the digital revolution. Throughout the whole age of digital music, file sharing through Napster, then Limewire, then BitTorrent and any number of other file sharing programs made music easily accessible for free. Finally, streaming came about from outlets like Rdio, Pandora, and Spotify to make music as easily accessible, though it does require some data usage, paying the artists at least something for the music, a fraction of a penny for each listen.
Apple’s entrance into the streaming service world, Apple Music, marks the beginning of the end for downloadable music. Apple, who owns the world’s largest music download store in iTunes, has stopped caring about iTunes and instead has thrown all their eggs in the Apple Music basket. The day Apple Music launched, it became extremely difficult to even find iTunes, or a price on an individual album. Instead, everything became focused on getting you to try the streaming service.
With the ability to listen offline, Apple Music completely blurs the lines between your purchased downloads and music you find in streaming. When you are under “My Music” on your iPhone or iPad, all your selected music, whether downloaded or just streamed, looks the same. Thus, Apple is playing a role in changing people’s understanding of your music. It’s no longer what you own, but it’s what you listen to. All music is available to snatch up and be listened to in the instance of a quick search.
With Beats 1 Radio, Apple also offers an alternate to Satellite (Sirus XM) and Terrestrial (AM/FM) Radio, for people that prefer someone else to curate their listening for them. Already, Beats 1 is off to a great start, with mixtapes/radio hours from tons of influential artists, including Dr. Dre, Elton John, and St. Vincent. Apple is making sure there is a curated option for every music fan under the sun.
Some bugs remain, that will keep Apple Music from becoming a complete no-brainer. For example, there is no easy way, beyond a syncing workaround, to get your music that’s not on Apple Music (say a local artist or an album that hasn’t released is not yet on iTunes) on your device. You can essentially turn Apple Music off, get it added, and then turn it back on, but this is a time-consuming affair. There are plenty of other little kinks Apple still has to work out, but I’m guessing a few software updates later, Apple music will be pretty much all you want it to be.
My prediction is by the end of 2016, streaming and vinyl will be the two largest sources of revenue for consuming music. Yes, those are on completely opposite sides of the spectrum, but vinyl still scratches the itch of audiophiles who love the tangible aspect of a record and listening intentionally an album at a time. Streaming speaks to our sense of wanting everything now, on-the-go, and for the lowest price possible, only $9.99 a month. It will be interesting how artists survive this new form, but it could be more exposure for artists, and getting some money (if just pennies) from people who may have been downloaded their records illegally through file-sharing before, is a small step up. The music industry continues to be in the wilderness.