Streaming Consciousness

August 12, 2009

The latest UK Music survey on downloading behaviour reveals that those in the age group 14-24 are quite likely to download music. I am, of course, using ‘reveals’ in the loosest possible sense, ie ‘carries out research which tells you what you already knew’. The survey’s results include percentages, which makes all the difference: ‘61% said they download music using P2P networks or torrent trackers. Of this group, 83% are doing so on a weekly or daily basis’. So now I know it is ‘61%’, and not just ‘lots’ as I previously thought.

The report can be accessed through UK Music at and I won’t labour it. But it came to my attention just as I am embarking on a new love affair – with Spotify – and made me wonder about music funding and the role of the middle-aged.

It is a badge of honour for youth to care really deeply and profoundly about music but, after a certain age, caring that much marks you out as peculiar. But the middle-aged still represent an important slice of the market, and I suspect that the changes in the market may affect them more profoundly.

They say music is a passion but, for me, it is more a case of music is {i}like{/i} passion. I no longer feel the need to ‘possess’ and it is not the most important thing in my life; my desires can be more easily satisfied and re-assert themselves less frequently than they did in my youth. And it’s pretty much the same with music.

While my love for Spotify is definitely not a one night stand, it may not be a lasting love, as the trail of other streaming services that I have cast aside may testify (although AOL Radio dumped me – and it still hurts). But Spotify seems different – I am sure it’s the one. At this moment, I cannot imagine ever wanting another or, crucially, ever wanting to buy another CD or bothering to download a track.

Spotify allows me to satisfy my occasional desire to hear the music that I like, including obscure artists and albums that I could not believe were available there. But I have felt no desire to download anything as a result and I can easily screen out the adverts so the pull of the premium service is very limited. In short, my personal contribution to funding the music industry is likely to be even more paltry than usual this year. Once every entertainment device in our house is linked to the computer (and that’s not far off), the bespoke streaming service will be even more attractive. I may not be the core music market but losing me, and thousands like me, will hurt the economic model of the music industry.

My justification for the above advertisement for Spotify appearing on these pages is that we engage here on the SCL site with the issue of illegal downloading and a number of articles have offered views on the way forward. My concern is that the assumptions that are often made about the attractiveness of alternatives are the assumptions of the young. Do those assumptions hold true across the music market? Spotify has just won significant VC funding so those with far more expertise than I obviously believe that its funding model, based on advertising and its association with easy legal downloads, will work. If my experience is anything to go by, I doubt that it will have a profitable future. And the upshot may be even more emphasis on enforcement of copyright and the very dark future where lots of young people (or 61% if you really must) are law breakers.