The Decline of Physical Music Sales personified

Streaming Music and the death of ownership

Streaming music services are fundamentally changing the way we enjoy music, and brings us a step closer to not having to own things.

We have reached a tipping point in musical history. Streaming music services are growing exponentially for many good reasons that have nothing to do with the launch of Apple Music.

The sea change in going from owning physical recordings to subscribing to streaming music services is possible the greatest innovation in music since the advent of recorded music itself. Music fans have always gone to great lengths to listen to the music they want to listen to, and today music streaming services finally provide the complete solution for listener who wants to have all the music is the world available to them everywhere. Even Apple, not known for embracing change, have cottoned onto this, but might have joined the part about five years too late.

Spotify, the current market leader has 75 million paying subscribers. Sonos believe that by 2021, one billion people worldwide will be paying for streaming music. I think this prediction is more likely to be correct than most tech predictions.

Consumers are getting a rather good deal from streaming music services. This article will concentrate on the three most disruptive things about streaming music, how they change the way we music, and how music lovers are the winners.

First, streaming music means there is one fewer kind of physical object we need to own. Free your mind and your stuff will follow. The astonishing growth of streaming music makes it probably the clearest example of the death-spiral of ownership.

Look at this purveyor of crap we saw in Winchester the other day. Is this not the decline of physical music personified?

The Decline of Physical Music Sales personified

Regardless of how tastefully your home is decorated, would not owning any of those tatty, second hand CDs or, heaven forbid, LPs, beautify some section of your home. As technology has advanced, there is simply no need to own a rack of CDs in 2015, even if surprisingly many people are yet to realise this.

No matter how much music you have bought (or stolen) in your life, no matter how avid a collector of rare recordings you are, your music collection is now worth approximately £9.99 a month. This is quite a tectonic shift in thinking about music.

Psychologically speaking It is obvious and natural that many people find pleasure in owning and displaying their music and video collections. Whether displayed in cheap shelving bought from Argos or IKEA, or in vastly expensive, unspeakably vulgar designer or metal glass shelving units, these people are clinically sane, but nevertheless irrational.

Physical media is a thing of the past, and of course many people quite enjoy living in the past, clinging on to the old world where you had to go to a store to purchase a physical item to be able to listen and watch what you wanted, or to display how cool and with it you are.

The truth, which is to say how things are in the present, is that you do not have to own a limited selection of music and have it filling up a space in your living room, attic, shed or garage. It seems much more convenient to pay less than ten pounds a month to get access to virtually all the music there is in the world.

Streaming music is not only making owning and cataloguing physical music totally obsolete and ridiculous, but has also largely succeeded in making owning and cataloguing digital music redundant and ridiculous. And thank heaven for that, it was a pain in the posterior.

The second good thing about streaming music services is that have enormous catalogues. Not only do they declutter your home, but they also provide an effectively limitless selection of music for you to choose from.

Whether on your commute or on your holiday you no longer need to bring stacks of physical optical media, or indeed a portable music or DVD player to play them. You also don’t need to manually rip and transcode the data and transfer them to your mobile phone or music player via USB cables, never mind recording tracks to compact cassettes.

The market leaders with the largest catalogues, Spotify, Deezer and Rdio have more than 30 million tracks. Apple Music, Google Play Music and Microsoft’s Groove are not far behind. Our personal digital music collection on our file server contains 80,000 unique tracks we have spent far too much money on, never mind time ripping, tagging and downloading cover art. We have eclectic tastes in music, yet I bet not more than 1,000 of these tracks are unavailable on Spotify, nearly all of which originate from cassettes released in Africa, the Middle East and Pakistan by local labels.

Whether your physical or digital collection is smaller or bigger, it is still peanuts compared to Spotify or Rdio. Every music streaming service out there have apps that cover nearly every platform, most of them even Windows Phone.

The third thing that makes a great music service is music discovery. Any good music streaming provider learns what music you like as you listen to it and knows what time you like to listen to certain types of music.

Your provider also has a gigantic database of artists, composers, similar artists, as well as the genre, tempo and moods for every track. This allows them to match the tracks you listen to with tracks that other subscribers with a similar taste in music to yours listen to, but you haven’t discovered yet. This is good, as otherwise finding music you like in a catalogue of 30+ million tracks would be a challenge.

Of course, you do not have to go out and buy the CD of the music you have been recommended, or even pay to download the individual tracks from iTunes. This is because you are already subscribing for access to that new music you have been recommended along with virtually every other piece of music in the world.

It is estimated that 53% of music played is at home. Once you subscribe to a streaming music service, you can play music on your computer connected to your Hi-Fi system, or Bluetooth speakers, or better yet use a multi-room product like Sonos (a fantastic system about which we will shortly be telling you more). Some of you may be thinking this means you will be getting lower quality audio than from CDs the that you own.

Not a bit of it! Innumerable listening tests performed by numberless audiophiles have shown this. This Toms Hardware article is one of our favourites.

As long as you have decent speakers or headphones, not even professional audio engineers and committed audiophiles can reliably tell the difference between streamed music and uber-quality sound. It has been repeatedly shown that lossy music streamed from the internet played through a $2 sound card versus CDs, LPs or even Hi-Res Audio at 192 KHz with a 24-bit sample rate, played through a $2,000 DAC and $5,000 headphones cannot be reliably distinguished.

If you are not convinced, there are several high-quality streaming music services that provide access to lossless music, at a premium. The best of these is Qobuz. They have just launched a 24-bit 192KHz service called Qobuz Sublime as well.

So music streaming services provide you access to virtually all the music in the world and can recommend and play music you are highly likely to enjoy, without having to spend a penny more to try it out, as well as let you listen to all your favourite tracks from the CD collection that you sold to Music Magpie.

You might as well, given last week’s bonkers ruling by the High Court that made us all criminals again for having ripped our own CDs is another nail in the coffin for physical music, which should boost streaming service subscriber numbers. Oh, and you can listen to it anywhere you are on your smartphone or tablet.

“But I get no internet connection on the train into work, or when I am flying!” I hear some of you cry. Worry not, most music streaming service apps allow you to download tracks and albums to your device so you can listen when you are offline.

Before going to Madeira this March I downloaded 21 GB of music (that is about 200 hours at the high quality setting I use) from my streaming service onto the 128GB MicroSD card in my phone. We were so busy having fun I would guess we did not even listen to a few hours of it. We did listen to “The girl from Ipanema goes poopy” at least once a day though!

Apple have embraced change with Apple Music. You should embrace change too, but not Apple Music

I cannot tell you about every one of the multitude of music streaming services that exist, but Team BeyondThePC have trialled most of the main ones, and in an upcoming article we shall give you some details about our experiences with them, but for now, Spotify are hard to fault.

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