September 04, 2007

Rick Rubin on new music distribution

via John Gruber

Rubin: “You would subscribe to music,” Rubin explained, as he settled on the velvet couch in his library. “You’d pay, say, $19.95 a month, and the music will come anywhere you’d like. In this new world, there will be a virtual library that will be accessible from your car, from your cellphone, from your computer, from your television. Anywhere. The iPod will be obsolete, but there would be a Walkman-like device you could plug into speakers at home.”
Gruber: To argue that subscriptions are the future of music is to argue that DRM is the future of music, and the evidence points to the contrary.

I don't think this necessarily requires DRM. The point is that people would pay to have streaming access to an unlimited library anywhere they were. This would require pervasive, high-speed wireless Internet access. Which, at least in urban centres, has begun to be a reality.

Combine this with a social observation: music tastes are ever changing, fragmented, and time-irrelevant. While some may still focus on radio hits, I find it increasingly hard to pick out a "song of Summer 2007", for example. I've heard some say it was Rhianna's Umbrella (at least the most over played), or Kelly Clarkson's new one, etc. But that's so far from the reality for those who adored Nine Inch Nails' Survivalism, or White Stripes' Icky Thump, or Linkin Park's What I've done. This was the year that I rediscovered Skinny Puppy, for example, which lead me to predominantly listening to circa-1987 through 1992 music that sounds fresh and original even today. In early August I discovered the Montreal band Unexpect, who blew me away. The best concerts this summer were Lamb of God, still touring for a Summer '06 album, Emperor, who "broke up" in 2001, and The best concerts this summer were Lamb of God, still touring for a Summer '06 album, Emperor, who "broke up" in 2001, along with Skinny Puppy and VNV Nation's tours for their 2007 albums.

Further, with people having home, work, and portable computers, it's a pain in the ass to manage a collection of music across all of these hard drives. One has to ensure synchrony, deal with duplicates, and not forget anything because you can't re-download it from iTunes.

So, the solution would be -- provide an unlimited library of music available any time, anywhere. If you need to download ('cache') the song, go ahead. Or you could just stream it. The subscription you're paying for is the management of storage across all these bloody devices. It's not the iPod that becomes obsolete, it's "mandatory syncing".

P.s. I recommend reading the whole NY Times article on Rick Rubin. I've liked his work for 20+ years, since I was in grade school (!)...

Posted by stu at September 4, 2007 12:02 PM