PressPlay, Yahoo! Music Unlimited, Napster (the legal version), Real Music, Virgin Digital Music, MusicMatch, Mog, Rdio, Spotify and others I've likely forgotten for better or worse. I've tried 'em all. And I'm not even counting the music lockers, the music purchasing sites, the music radio sites...
In some cases, I've fallen in love, or at least deep like. But then comes the inevitable breakups; they keep my money, they keep my subscription tracks, and well, that's fine... that's the deal. We had our good times, honest!
You know what just kills me, though? They also keep my playlists. They don't let me have custody of that library of artists and albums and songs I so lovingly put together and oft-categorized over the last months or even years. All my ratings? POOF! Not even a CSV dump, dear old flames? No, apparently not.
This doesn't just make me sad about my prior "relationship," it makes me more wary of getting into new ones. Put more plainly, I believe the lack of portability of our playlists and related personal music data is hurting adoption of music subscriptions.
But wait, Adam, do you really think the plethora of non-geeks in the world are worried about this? Aren't they flocking to Spotify, at least not yet worried about what happens when they want to move their library and playlists to another service?
Frankly, most folks probably aren't worried. But the online music community -- of bloggers, API developers and users, etc. -- most likely is significantly discouraged.
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Let's look at a couple of specific examples of how the lack of music portability hurts music online for everyone:
- I want to curate a "best of a cappella" blog, legally showcasing great tracks to encourage discovery and purchases (with money going to the artist!).
- To do this, I have to link to or -- better yet -- embed the tracks. Let's say I used imeem embed codes back before imeem went to that great big jukebox in the sky (and I'm not talking about cloud services). Today, not only would all those links/embeds be broken, there'd be no easy way for me to switch them to working links on another service; it's not like Blogger (or most blogging systems) offer grep, and there aren't any consistent music identifiers anyway letting me link a song on one service to a song on another service.
- Maybe I'd be luckier and choose to point links to Spotify, a fine service that's still alive and kicking. But hey... not everyone has the Spotify app installed. Worse, the Spotify service isn't even available in most countries in the world! :-( So for that majority of people, the links would be practically useless (and certainly frustrating).
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I think two things would greatly help make this overall situation much, much less painful.
- Unique music locator codes, at least per track. Imagine if music://owtgia42 or music://moxy-fruvous-king-of-spain7 linked to a unique track globally... and clicking on that would open up a web-based or client-side music service of the user's choice!
- Bloggers wouldn't have to worry about link-rot.
- Users would be empowered to listen to music via services they like (and that are supported in their region!)
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Sure, there'd be some pretty major challenges! Looking at the unique music locator codes...
- What would happen if the person clicking on the link had no installed web or client resources to play the song? Or if they lived in a region in which they were not allowed to access and play that particular track? (that situation in itself seems silly to me -- the whole balkanized rights stuff -- but I digress, and that's certainly a hefty fish to fry)
- How could artists -- concerned about how others experience their music -- be ensured that listeners' experiences would be positive ones? (e.g., high quality, authentic tracks)
- What would be the reaction from artists and the music industry when people chose to have music:// on their system be parsed by P2P services, garnering them perfectly matched but not-paid-for tunes?
- What different things would have to support a music:// option? Probably browsers, operating systems, others?
- Would the music services even embrace this? One might cynically argue that they have an economic incentive to perpetuate lock-in vs. supporting portability, particularly when their competitors are not offering portability. But I'd argue that universally setting playlists and libraries free would jump-start citizen-music-sharing and in the end, greatly swell the numbers of people paying for online subscription services.
And for the changes in global intellectual property... well, that'd be such a gargantuan task, certainly, that I'm not sure it's even something to attempt tackling in my lifetime. While "30 second snippets are good for listeners, musicians, and the entire music ecosystem" sounds sensible to me, "sensible" does not always take precedence in the world of law. Believe me, as someone with a law degree, I know this more painfully than most ;-).
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So is at least the music locator code idea doable? Are there any organizations making substantial, promising headway on it? There's Gracenote, but I don't believe their database is available for free. A buddy told me about Echo Nest, but I'm still getting my head around their API and am unsure whether it really accomplishes what I'm yearning for.
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I'd love to hear your thoughts on this! Please sound off (ha!) in the comments :-)