time to change the way we view music and the arts

Spotify Station Track 1: Radio-Saves the Day

Radio by Saves The Day on Grooveshark

“Hearing the words as they’re leaving my mouth
I can’t believe myself
Trying to be what you want me to be
I guess I can’t catch up”

I love a good play on words to open up a blog entry. Particularly when I can throw a song in for good measure. 😉

Radio has indeed saved the day for Spotify who is almost as frequent a topic around here, as were the struggling escapades of Julie Taymor and Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark –actually almost a year ago to date, HERE.

Internet based music discovery, subscriptions and streaming have become some of the most popular words in music consumerism and this has only continued to bubble with the need and desire for competition in the virtual shark tank. As I have recently talked about Spotify’s loss of “secret band” sparkle, one of the things lost that I mentioned as key in that initial excitement phase, was the loss of a universally “free” element that users felt they had when Spotify was only overseas, outside of the US, (for early discoverers within the US) and similarly for Pandora Radio when users could endlessly stream without subscriptions and a monthly cost.

Amid the raging complications of copyright, compensation and label relations for so many of these streaming and subscription based services, if we’re just to look at Pandora and Spotify for the moment, it seems as though Pandora has been quite the primary reference as a company that can avoid Spotify’s newly publicized weaknesses in the business areas just mentioned.

Gigaom.com just published an article this past Sunday, wherein they make an easy to follow, but somewhat depressing, analogy of an economically “one sided” business arrangement using Spotify and an imaginary hot dog vendor. The point of the article is to illuminate the previously non-disclosed details of the rock and hard place that Spotify is caught between when it comes to augmenting its music catalog, because of the liberties music labels can take with pricing, supplying and the sheer fact that there’s no alternative if you want a particular artist available to your consumers, among other things.

Artists can’t be involved with more than one label at a time, so it’s not like going to grocery store B if grocery store A doesn’t have your favorite ice cream or how you can settle for the generic brand of the same flavor from within one store. If you as a listener want Demi Lovato in your playlist, there’s only one of her –end of story. (No matter how much you might like to interchange her with fellow Disney graduate, Selena Gomez, heh.) Gigaom also emphasizes the fact that this very monopoly-like control of supply is “government granted,” so regardless of how poor this setup might be, the structure can remain and even get worse, as we’ve seen with the splicing of EMI and downgrading to three major suppliers –I mean labels.

Near the end of the piece, author Michael Robertson throws Pandora in the mix as having the upperhand, when he notes the following:

“Online radio services such as Pandora take advantage of a government-supervised license available only to radio broadcasters, thus sidestepping dealing with record labels. While the per-song fees are daunting, they bypass virtually all of the terms listed [in the article.]”

While this is used purely as an illustrative point, interestingly enough, just days before this piece was published, (Dec. 11,) Spotify announced via its Twitter account the coming of Spotify Radio, used in conjunction with the main streaming service. In an almost Shakespearian twist of a retaliation, Daniel Ek, the founder of Spotify, propelled interest in Spotify Radio by not only climbing into the internet radio ring with Pandora and eliminating its sole bypassing power but by directly taking a slash of retaliation at Pandora where it falls short:

1) Limited number stations to create (100)
2) Limited Skipping of streamed tracks

Spotify has made both these restrictions unlimited and that not only shoves blatant favorable opposition in consumers’ faces but somewhat revives and almost hybridizes the “secret band” sparkle that both Pandora and Spotify had in the first place. Spotify is reminding consumers what Pandora used to be like before it became huge and well-known. Ouch, talk about pouring salt on that new wound to Pandora’s business. Of course, there’s still one card Pandora can play to keep ahead and keep people ‘nostalgically interested.’ Sure, Spotify stole Pandora’s ability to be first in returning to its “unlimited” roots and one-upping its existing formula but Spotify Radio hasn’t been launched for mobile use yet. So, if Pandora bites back by icing this new cake with a mobile option we might just have a close battle of the brands on our hands with this game of back and forth.
Spotify is certainly trying to be what consumers want it to be and I guess it can catch up.

One other side thought I’ve had stemming from these developments: The idea that Spotify radio users can skip and skip until the sun goes down makes me question the overall appeal people seem to articulate for the concept of radio anyway –even if it is personalized. The core concept of radio, even if it’s based around a particular artist or style of song, still retains a degree, no matter how small, of spontaneity. If you’re getting frustrated or unhappy with a service that is meant to promote artist growth and listener discovery through genre connections and you just want to skip until you find that one song you want to hear, repeating this process until you’re done listening, then why not just make a playlist in the main Spotify program using the entire available library, pressing play and leaving it at that? The vastness of the word “unlimited” points to this scenario. If you’re sitting there thinking, “I don’t want to skip THAT much, just sometimes more than Pandora lets me” then I have a similar scenario to pose to you.

The major smart phone carrier plans in the US (T-Mobile, AT&T, Sprint, Verizon) have been eliminating the idea of “unlimited” data usage for some time now. Even though T-Mobile and Sprint are competing against each other with this element, T-Mobile is actually much more like its data limiting counterparts than it would care to admit upfront. 2 gigabytes is the average number used among carriers for data plans nowadays and though T-Mobile says “unlimited,” they actually talk quite a bit about data speed reduction past whatever limited quantity you choose for your data plan. The thing is, as many of the consumer usage studies have shown, the average mobile device user won’t be near the 2 gig limit for full speed data, so as far as needing the infinite backup that is “unlimited data,” the option is largely comforting on a psychological level.

Same thing with buffet restaurants. I don’t tend to opt for them often because I know my eating habits and how much I can physically consume, no matter how much I might rave on about something I’m craving. Buffets make money off of me because for the amount I’m paying, knowing I’m allowed to eat as much as I want, at the end of it all, the amount I’ve consumed isn’t worth what I paid. However, if your eating habits vary or you eat slightly more on average, a fixed price+knowing you’re permitted 10 plates if you want to, feels like a psychologically good deal. Buffets bank on people like me coming in, confident the supply they lose in food won’t outweigh the money I pay for the product. How this relates to unlimited skipping is that the average user probably won’t skip on and on and on but its a bit telling of the consumer culture of excess and desired heavy flexibility (on top of something already as individualized, and subsequently difficult,) as music, when we jump at the chance for limitless anything because its good to have it ‘just in case.’

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