How will we listen to music in 2020

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Austin, TX gets extremely busy over spring break every March, as SXSW rolls into town. Originally a showcase festival for musicians to expose their art to the industry, it has greatly expanded into the areas of film and interactive technology. The borders of the different disciplines tend to blur, and this was reflected in the choice of topics for many of the hundreds of panels and discussions available to the attendees. One that received quite a bit of interest was entitled: How Will We Listen to Music in 2020?

The way we listen to music has changed significantly over the last ten years and will continue to do so. This panel tries to look into the future and assess the issues that come with the move away from physical recordings and how different sectors of the recording industry are affected.
Jonas Woost, former head of music at, moderated the discussion between the three panelists:

The first question put to the panelists was on how we will consume music in the future. Ljung commented first, on how he thought that the 6 to 9 million-song catalog would be mostly streamed from the ‘cloud’. He said, “I really think that all significant music consumption will come from a source that’s online. Everything will be streamed. Downloads are dead.”
He thinks that the idea of ‘ownership’ of a song will become completely irrelevant in the future. Why buy a song, download it and then stream it from your hard drive, when you can just quickly stream it from online, and let someone else take care of all the storage? The other panelists disagreed slightly, leaning more towards the idea that the future of music is all about how it is packaged – as Savoca put it, ”How will we listen to music in the future? Any way we want to.”
If we want to live off the grid, and have some packaging, or other artwork, then that should be as available as instant streaming.
Another argument put forth against the ‘streaming only’ idea, is that due to the extremely unique preferences of each listener, it would be impossible to create a system that has filtering that is powerful enough to deal with individual tastes. Ljung responded by commenting that hopefully the music on the cloud wouldn’t be coming from one source, and filtered by that same source, but would be a component system, with different people building different parts, that will enable a very efficient system – one that is very possible to cater to each individual taste.

Another thought was that music would become more participatory. At this point in history, we listen to music in a “lean back”, passive way. Perhaps in the future, music will be a more involved experience. Soundcloud is really interested in music going in both directions. (For example, they already have several bands on Soundcloud that are encouraging their fans to make their own meaningful music from the band’s source music) There are apps out there to encourage participation (T-pain’s iPhone app being a good example), and companies are starting to develop different formats that have high levels of interaction alongside improved sound quality. A couple of companies that were mentioned were RJDJ, and MXP4. Savoca mentioned that this idea of listener participation might not be popular with everyone, but it’s another way of ‘packaging’ music, it might appeal to a certain demographic, and should not be ignored.

Several other subjects were covered, but the theme that kept returning throughout the rest of the discussion was the idea of openness within the industry, from the software makers, to the record companies. In answer to a question about the future of the devices that we’ll listen to music on, Ljung said that there were no specific devices that they were building, they were just trying to make their software so that it can be used in connection with many different components of the industry, from the web, to the mobile web, to the record companies, to the car, etc. Soundcloud’s software is all open API, so people can incorporate Soundcloud into whatever they’re using. For example, there’s a recording app that’s been built for the iPhone, that saves the audio directly to Soundcloud.
Perreau mentioned that the best way of providing music recommendation is for all the different platforms of music recommendation from social groups such as twitter, to more traditional music journalism, to combine forces, and work together. His company, Gigulate, works off that exact premise, combining search algorithms, journalism and social networking to provide (hopefully) a more accurate music recommendation service.

The way we listen to music has changed significantly over the last ten years and will continue to do so

Because the conversation was about the future, no-one could say definitively what was going to become of the way we will listen to music in the future. It is however an exciting time, with the development of new models and software, that will hopefully provide a myriad of ways to continue to listen to our favorite music, by whatever means we desire.

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