Yesterday’s announcement of new iPods and a new version of iTunes revealed one biggish innovation on Apple’s part: Genius, which is Apple’s attempt at integrating last.fm/Pandora-like “recommendation” functionality into the music player. So far, it seems a bit imperfect to me: It’s claiming that I’m “missing” songs that are next in line on my playlist; and its recommendations get a bit more dicey the further your listening habits stray from iTunes’ best-sellers list. Kevin Maney at Portfolio wonders if the meh-ness of the products Apple unveiled yesterday is a sign that Apple has hit the wall, innovation-wise, in music, but Marc Cohen at Ad-Supported Music Central takes his argument one further, saying that the whole industry is in the doldrums, at least on the business side.
Artists continue to create great music but the business and technology people in the industry don’t seem able to come up with any inspired new applications. More colors, more gigabytes and more music discovery options are just more of the same.
Innovation driven by a solid business case (not just the “we can do it, so we might as well” imperative) is what the music industry and the technology companies with music products and applications – need but are sorely lacking.
Now, Cohen is a big advocate of ad-supported music (as the title of his blog might suggest), and I know that he’s frequently agitated for newer distribution methods that require people to pay for music with time; I suspect part of the innovation he’s looking for involves models that embrace these ideas more successfully than, say, SpiralFrog. (Whether or not those ideas will ever bear out in the bottoming-out-as-we-speak music marketplace is another thing.)
But taking his complaint one step further, “more colors, more gigabytes, and more delivery options” could be extended to “more bands releasing singles via video games,” “more bands patting themselves on the back for releasing records no one would buy anyway via the Pirate Bay,” “more remixes of mildly popular bands’ songs sponsored by companies,” and so on, and so on. Sure, the fatigue on all sides probably stems equally from the double-whammy of the business being hit hard by people abandoning the idea of paying for its project and the economy, and while “hooks” like these may not be all that interesting once you probe deeper than their attendant press releases’ second headlines, they’ll definitely get press from the more story-hungry types out there. I guess what I’m wondering is, what can happen next? Is the “free vs. paid” music argument ever going to move beyond its current stalemated state? Will plastic guitars become the new Neo Geo once 2009′s holiday season rolls around? And will the real, game-changing innovations happening now not be visible to the naked eye until three or four years down the road, when the reverberations of things that may seem minor now bowl over society, and I’m going to have to hope that more pop stars have onstage tantrums in the meantime?