Streaming music may lead to the apocalypse
'90s rock group The Presidents of the United States of America have introduced a $2.99 iPhone app that allows users to stream the band's entire catalogue. (See story here.) The app also contains links to buy MP3's from iTunes. Until now, I hadn't seriously considered streaming music. In its current state, I hate it. Some record labels now service promos through streaming, which I ignore. Being chained to a computer while listening to degraded audio? No thanks.
Indeed, platform specificity is the greatest disadvantage of apps. One must use an iPhone, iPod, or other app-enabled device, and also must have Internet/cell service. The promise of "anytime, anywhere" doesn't hold true. Copyright is another issue. If I stream a song while in France, does French copyright law apply in terms of licensing and royalties? Finally, if each band has its own app, one's iPhone will quickly become cluttered with apps. The mess will engender aggregator streaming services, which would be a step backward. They already exist today - MySpace, Rhapsody, Pandora, and so on.
Streaming apps have advantages, though. Consumers can try before buying. There's no more need to download an album to see if it's worth purchasing. Bands can bypass the record industry. Instead of waiting for labels to get their albums into record stores, which are disappearing anyway, or for fans to access their MySpace, artists can deliver content directly to listeners. Bands that are unsigned, and are thus free of copyright entanglements, will especially benefit.
The notion of "having" music is becoming volatile. We have moved from record collection to assemblages of various physical and digital media. Assuming that problems with streaming are eventually solved, will we need to possess music anymore? To drown out subway noise, one doesn't need lossless fidelity. Larger Internet pipes could ensure greater fidelity where it counts - at home, or anywhere quiet. I, for one, feel no need for physical artifacts of music. Give me the aesthetic experience - artwork, lyrics - but spare me the environmentally wasteful residue. What you own owns you.
While romantic, the notion of the great jukebox in the sky could be problematic. Perhaps the satellite that streams music to Earth will malfunction. Gamma Ray the band will become an actual gamma ray, torching the world in an inferno of cheesy vocals and overwrought harmonies. The soundtrack to the apocalypse will not be death or black metal, but Happy Power Metal. Its Antichrist will be Kai Hansen.
- Cosmo Lee