We all remember the big announcement: after months of hype, rumour mongering and tip offs from innumerable shady sources everything became official. We were disappointed, it was just like the last one. Yes there were some internal differences, but ultimately from the outside it looked exactly the same as what came before and little to get excited about. No we’re not talking about the iPhone 4S, but the launch of Google Music.
Google’s “turn it up to 11” event on Wednesday night didn’t so much reach Spinal Tap-esque proportions, as squeeze to levels where your mum might comment “dear, could you turn it down a bit?” The reason was clear: another me-too Cloud Locker with a newly added download service felt wholly archaic for the long time purveyor of a life lead and located online. Where was the streaming service, the Spotify rival? Heck couldn’t Google have bought Spotify, and if the likes of Spotify and Napster had the muscle to strike streaming deals with the major record labels why couldn’t Google? The answer may just be: because it has no choice.
Streaming is currently the fashionable service of our time. Whether audio or video it offers an immediate, low cost way to expand our entertainment knowledge beyond our wildest dreams. In the case of music it makes our listening habits more transient, never dwelling, always moving us forward to the next album, artist, playlist or friend’s link. It is consumerism at its most consuming and for Google, as it has so far proved for Apple and Amazon, getting involved is proving a step too far.
The vast majority of us will remember a time before widespread digital music. We bought vinyl, CDs and cassettes in comparatively small numbers and listened to the same purchase over and over again. We got value for money, drove friends and family mad and could name every song on an album and sing every track. We proclaimed it was only after a certain number of listens that you could fully appreciate the album we had just bought, whether it was true or not. Only when thoroughly digested did we move onto the next purchase.
This suited the music industry, allowed it to charge high prices and yes, still rip-off artists with small percentages but small percentages on extortionate prices made them easier to stomach. Digital music put pressure on the album, allowing us to pick and choose the tracks we wanted, but we still invested time in these selections, these mini investments, and played them over and over. Streaming breaks this long time habit allowing us to roam free, to dabble, it is unlimited wine tasting when everyone in the industry wants you to buy a bottle. It has everyone in the music industry scared witless and, more to the point, it forces their long term established technology partners to be regressive, not rock the boat or push for evolution.