The Buggles once trilled, “video killed the radio star”, in premonition of the death of the airwaves. They were wrong, the radio survived, but it’s fair to say that video gave it a good kicking. Now, with 2018 approaching, radio is in the process of taking another hiding. CDs meanwhile are trembling in the corner, hoping that the bully will simply forget they exist…just like you probably have. The bully in this instance is known as Streaming, and it sure looks the part. Covered in Spotify, Tidal and Apple Music tattoos, and armed with the threat of adverts, Streaming is pilfering lunch money in the form of subscription fees.
Streaming isn’t a particularly new thing, but it only recently became the biggest player in the music industry. In 2016 alone, there was a 60.4% growth in streaming revenue. With this evolution of the industry has come uncertainty, as artists, consumers, labels and streaming sites all have questions about the future of the platform as it continues to grow. This uncertainty invites change, and take it from us, the time’s they are a-changing. So, what can we expect from the future, regarding the music industry? And what new innovations, and technological advances are going to shape the way we listen in the years to come?
1. The album as we know it will change
More and more people are listening to individual songs, picking and choosing, rather than listening to whole albums. Even when people do listen to whole albums, the ‘shuffle’ feature is used so regularly that the order of the songs becomes irrelevant. When the order is important, it is often because a music lover has painstakingly built their perfect playlist. In essence, they’ve created their own, modern mix tape.
So, why are artists still bothering to agonise over the track order of their albums? Why do they continue working towards an ideal which sees each track as part of a perfect whole when the album is listened to in the correct order? The answer is, they’re starting not to. As Justin Young, of The Vaccines, told the BBC: “If you look at how the biggest artists on the planet are packaging albums now, it’s less about a cohesive group of songs or a journey…because they understand how people gravitate towards music now. They pick and choose.”
2. AI will become a major part in choosing what we listen to
Just generally, in life, assume that artificial intelligence (AI) is about to change everything. This includes the music industry too. More and more, music distributors will use AI and myriad clever algorithms to tailor your experience of their service. This is already happening, just look at the ‘recommended for you’ section of whatever platform you’re using. You’ll likely find that it includes tracks by artists whose other work you have listened to, or music from similar genres and tones to those you have previously enjoyed. Obviously, this isn’t a coincidence.
However, experts believe that these curation systems shall continue to evolve and begin taking more Big Data into account. For instance, rather than simply scanning your recent listening history for clues, Big Data means that these systems shall consistently be analysing everything from your social media activity, to your listening habits on other devices in order to determine relevant new music suggestions for you.
3. Room for VR?
Virtual Reality (VR) is still an emerging technology. Therefore, it’s yet to fully make its way into the mainstream and the everyday lives of most people. In the music industry, toes are being tentatively dipped into the potential of VR. The likes of Paul McCartney, Coldplay and U2 have already embraced VR – using the technology in music videos or as part of a live experience. We can expect to see this flourish, as VR is something that more and more people have access to.
The scope of VR in music is huge. Imagine the potential profit that could be generated by something akin to tickets to concerts that allows fans to experience a gig from the comfort of their sofa. It could even be applied to such an affect as making a fan feel like part of the band. Allowing them to feel what it’s like to be onstage in front of thousands. However, the technology is implemented, rest assured that there are plenty already alert to the potential of VR in music, and are already racing to come up with its most innovative potential uses.
4. CDs – will they die like cassettes, or rise again like vinyl?
In the past decade CD sales have gone off a cliff. Streaming is eating in to numbers of CD sales more every day, and the truth is, the days of the compact disc appear to be numbered. Were it not for another crucial factor, we’d go as far to say that CDs are soon to be dead. However, that impossible-to-ignore factor prevents us, and it is this: vinyl. Vinyl sales in the UK have just hit a 25-year high. Many have ruminated on the causes of this, and whether this trend is simply a bubble that could burst soon. The figures show though that young people are buying more and more vinyl every year. This suggests that vinyl offers something that downloads and streaming can’t – something tangible. Millennials, it seems, are yearning for the solidity of artefacts as well as the convenience, and transience, of streaming.
So, why are young people going all the way back to vinyl – a technology that died before their time – and not simply picking up CDs? We think there are several reasons. The broad sleeves of records, for starters, were canvases for some of the most iconic album art ever produced. The art remains it’s best when displayed on that larger platform of the record sleeve. Secondly, there is an intimacy that comes with vinyl. To stop it warping or skipping, it has to be looked after. And placing the needle is a delicate operation that requires practice. This creates a sense of ownership, and involvement, between the player and the record. The convenience of CDs simply never allowed this sense to flourish. Thirdly, vinyl often sounds better. It simply does.
For these reasons then we believe the demise of the CD really does mean its end, and it likely won’t enjoy a vinyl-style renaissance. They will instead languish, forgotten, with the cassettes.
The future of music
Music is changing. As music always has and always must. That much is clear. What may be less clear now is how many of these trends will continue on their current trajectories to being the next big thing, or whether any will instead pass the mainstream by like a ship in the night. Whatever the case, people will still listen to music for the same reasons. People want to dance, move and to feel – whether it’s a record, CD or streamed. “The more things change, the more things stay the same” – Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr.
Also published on Medium.