Saturday, August 08, 2009

Where Music Distribution is Headed: The App Store on iTunes

I'm an optimist by nature. Always been that way. The empty part of "the glass half full" is just an undiscovered water source to me. You can drill a well in the desert, you know, you just have to dig really, really deep.

So, while many people who I consider foolish have been lamenting everything from the fall of free-format FM radio through the decline of the major labels, to... well, just about any music industry change they can't fathom the ramifications of, I've been smiling and cheering the "pedestrianization" of technology, because it has been taking power away from knot-headed elites - many of whom are lawyers (glorified accountants, in my book) - and giving it ALL back to the artists. Remember: First-class citizens create things, second-class citizens produce things, third-class citizens provide essential services, and fourth-class citizens provide optional services: Lawyers and many in the music "industry" are fourth-class leaches. So, being, as I am, a radical libertarian individualist, I'm all about letting tech put these leaches out of bee's-wax!

What I, and every other pundit I'm aware of, have not foreseen is the emerging paradigm. What will it be? There will be one, that's for sure, but exactly what it could look like has escaped our grasp. No harm/no foul, because there just hasn't been enough information to reach a conclusion... until now.

Perhaps a deeper thinker than I could have seen this coming with the advent of iTunes and the iTunes Store, but selling single tracks a la cart really didn't trip the trigger for me... or, anyone else. What paradigm is going to replace the venerable album? Not single tracks and ring tones, that is obvious. To really replace the album in the internet age, you're going to have to offer MORE, much more. Just offering fourteen tracks with high-resolution album art isn't going to do it.

Well, the lightbulb just lit up above my head: The successor of the album in the digital on-line age will be the app, as in apps from the iTunes App Store for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and the forthcoming Apple Tablet Device!. Wish I could claim full credit for this moment of enlightenment - this epiphany - but the much more tech savvy Eliot Van Buskirk at WIRED beat me to it.

"The iTunes music store sells single songs at approximately the same price, with artist presented in more or less the same way.

Apple’s app store, however, is still somewhat like the wild west (at least as far as music goes), where the rules are being made up in real time. Artists and labels can sell music alongside other digital offerings through the app store at any price from zero to $999.99.

As we suggested last summer, this creates an opportunity for artists and labels to distribute a new type of product, especially because the app store concept is spreading to other mobile phone platforms.

On Monday, six of the 20 most recently submitted music apps to appear in the App Store featured a single artist: Jason Carver, Jessica Harp, Jimmy Cliff, John Butler Trio, Kadence, or The Cribs. Each showcases music videos, photos, news, photo-jumble games, concert listings, and/or community features that let fans share photos with each other. And all of them were made with iLike’s iPhone app toolkit — as was Ingrid Michaelson’s app, pictured to the right.

Since iLike launched the service in May, about 250 of the over 300,000 artists with access to iLike’s dashboard feature have launched customized iPhone apps through the system."

See that - hey, look past the super-cutie - Music, Videos, Photos, a Twitter feed, Gig Schedules, and even Games.

That's it, right there: Musicians can now record, engineer, and produce their music at home, distribute it through the iTunes Store, and provide massive amounts of additional content through The App Store. No blood-sucking leach middlemen from a label involved, and there's already an intuitive program available to design the apps. Now this I absolutely love.

This calls for a redhead!


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