I have been playing with Spotify. This is the music streaming application, which originated in Europe and is the spiritual successor to Pandora, in my mind.
The dream of perfect recorded music enjoyment has been developing quickly over my lifetime. Mp3 will likely be remembered as a turning point in mankind's notion of possession. I was born in the early 80s, and the idea of "Information is the new commodity" has been in the parlance of society the whole time. I think very few people outside of the technology field really internalized this idea until Napster and Metallica had their little spat. I can only hope that this is where the story begins, and not with iPod 1.0, because that would be a real shame. The start of popular culture's desire for a new medium began in 1999, when some has-been rockers thought they saw money left on the table, when in fact they were missing point altogether.
I was personally one of the 300,000 or so Napster users who were kicked off due to our possession of metallica .mp3s. I remember that day clearly, because many of my highschool friends had a similar daily regiment as I did. Before school, we would queue up about five .mp3s downloading. At lunch we would drive home and check the progress, and add more if by some miracle those five were completed. Immediately after school, we would repeat this process, and in the evenings we would make mix cds for ourselves and friends. The morning I was kicked off, I had assumed the whole system was gone. When none of my friends had any problems that morning, I went back to read the fine print, and discovered the truth. I had downloaded two Metallica songs, for the sole purpose of learning the guitar for our band's cover versions, and now I was cut off, along with about three hundred-thousand other saps.
This came as no real surprise to me, given my terrible luck for situations like this. What truly hurt was how Napster continued to function for all my buddies, including those who downloaded Metallica after the initial cutoff. I am fairly sure it took over a year for the whole system to be shutdown.
Various other file-sharing systems came and went, and brought with them their insane pop-up ads and malware. It took roughly two years of full-blown chaos until bit-torrent was invented, and order began to triumph over chaos. Amateur programmers invented bit-torrent. The efficiency of the programming is astounding. It highlights the real mental leap one has to make when thinking digitally. A bit-torrent file is essentially a paint-by-numbers template, which is miraculously small in size. Once a user has a .torrent file, they can simply find the color paint they need by effectively shopping locally. Instead of having to be connected to a user with the completed picture, all one needs is a glimpse at a million incomplete pictures. Now, the completed picture (or song, or movie, or entire catalog) is never actually moving through any centralized hub, such as Napster. It is very difficult to really fault anyone, and the data transfer is so efficient, that even a throttled connection can pirate music with a hundred times the effectiveness I had ten years ago.
So now, we live in the wonderful world of the dead and dying recording industry. They were always parasitic vendors of plastic, who never really served any purpose. It would be interesting to go back in time, and convince led zeppelin to just buy a record pressing machine, and destroy the system in 1976. I suppose they would also have to give out actual reel-to-reel versions to encourage sharing. It would never work. The real first opportunity would be around 1997. Maybe David Bowie and Trent Reznor team up to release Earthling and The Fragile online only. It would likely take you a day to download from a single source like that. Maybe just time out trying to reach it. Maybe they could actually prepare fans for it, and everyone would be content.
Regardless, it has been a transitional two-decades for the music industry. I believe we are finally reaching the sweet spot, in a sense. Napster may have alerted the world to this technological shift, but Apple sure as hell monetized it correctly. The savvy among us see our options, but iTunes has enabled everyone over 50 to engage with the potential of .mp3. In a bigger sense, iTunes made a huge section of baby-boomers actually attempt to use a computer.
And now we have Spotify. This is a terrific system of music digestion. Personally, I rarely use the radio option. This is the mode where you select a song, and Spotify attempts to make an endless playlist based on that song. Other possible names I might give it include "Ruin this song for me". This is why I always hated Pandora. I can't really vocalize it, but I can't choose a 'sound' without just wanting to hear that artist. I like spotify, because it simply behaves like iTunes, but your catalog is infinite.