Sunday, September 28, 2008

Digital Music Stores are on the right track

Some recent changes to the digital music scene are worth mentioning and relate to the discussion I raise regarding specific strategies that will help political music to be heard in the digital environment. Firstly there has been some integration between music services and external sources of content, secondly there have been some changes allowing more flexible use of general search engines and thirdly there has been some progress with respect to allowing the streaming of content prior to purchase.

eMusic was the first to announce and begin to integrate outside content into its service with Wikipedia pages and You Tube videos being made accessible from artist's pages. This was recently followed by an announcement by Yahoo that similar measures would be undertaken.

One of the central arguments of the presentation I will be giving in early October is that this sort of integration is essential to political music as much of the lyrics relate to specific events and social history. More immediate access to this information and the direct association of this sort of material with the music would remove many of the steps needed to establish the context in which oppositional audible culture is produced and thus enhance the exposure, consumption and use of this form of music. Unfortunately early indications suggest that the integration of these sources will not be comprehensive but rather limited to artist biographies and clips relating purely to the songs themselves.

Yahoo, in partnership with Rhapsody, has also recently announced and begun allowing for full length tracks to be searched for through its general search engine. Again this is an important improvement simplifying the process of locating and accessing political music. However reports suggest that this will only allow songs to be searched for by artist name and song title. Whilst an improvement on what is available now, in order to enhance access and use of political music I argue that there needs to be more comprehensive search facilities which would enable the lyrics or embedded tags to be searched to locate material based on content.

Yahoo will also be allowing a limited number of tracks to be streamed once for free (25 per month) prior to the music being purchased. This is similar to the recently launched MySpace Music (only available in the USA at the moment) which will allow an unlimited number of streams of songs but will require purchase through Amazon in order to retain copies of tracks. In the case of MySpace Music the streams are ad supported with revenue sharing arrangements with copyright holders.

Whilst all music suffers from the pay-before-you-try model, as political music is commonly not accessible through mainstream media such as radio and television, this form of culture, and indeed many independent artists (if they are given equal access to these services), will benefit from this change of strategy.

The translation of political expression into social change requires interpretation and application. I argue that these efforts of allowing streams of songs are positive but for political music, greater exposure, consumption and use would more easily be affected through greater affiliation with legitimate non profit associations. I envisage allowing these sites the ability to stream related songs from their websites as one means to increase the communicative capacity of this form of music.

These steps whilst not across the board nor in themselves sufficient to ensure that political music is being heard, are nonetheless positive changes that can be built on in the future (if there is the commercial incentive to do so).

Further Reading
Digital Music News, eMusic Goes Under the Knife; Makeover Unwrapping Soon (17 July 2008) <> at 18 July 2008

Yahoo, Yahoo hopes to boost search fortunes with new music search (19 September 2008) <> at 21 September 2008

CNet News, Yahoo adds full-length music tracks to search results (18 September 2008) <> at 21 September 2008

ArsTechnica, MySpace Music extends right hand of fellowship to Big Four, middle finger to indies (25 September 2008) <> at 26 September 2008

TechDirt, Independent Record Labels Missing From MySpace Music (25 September 2008) <> at 26 September 2008

The Register, MySpace Music hears the antitrust song (18 September 2008) <> at 21 September 2008

Digital Music News, MySpace Music Goes Live; All Majors On Board (25 September 2008) <> at 26 September 2008

Silicon Valley/Associated Press, MySpace rolling out music service (24 September 2008) <> at 26 September 2008

The Register, MySpace Music hears the antitrust song (18 September 2008) <> at 21 September 2008

TechDirt, MySpace's Music Offering: Ignoring The Elephant In The Room (12 September 2008) <> at 21 September 2008

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