The music industry won’t recover from its woes until it stops treating songs like commodities. Here’s how to do it.
Web music services have been around for 15 years, but they still fail listeners in so many ways. I keep switching from provider to provider, hoping to find one that will meet even my basic needs. But they always fall short. And I know other listeners are just as frustrated as I am.
Just a few days ago, I signed up for Beats Music, hoping that this would be the answer. After all, Apple is paying $3 billion to acquire Beats Electronics, and—so I surmised—wouldn’t shell out that kind of money for an inferior product. Would they?
I was wrong. My Beats experience has been just as frustrating as my previous forays into streaming and downloading. If Apple has that kind of money to spend, certainly they can do a better job than this. But 15 years after Napster, we are still in the Dark Ages of online music.
Here’s my list of 25 things I want from an online music service—and almost never get.
1. Allow me the option of making a cash payment directly to the recording artist. Many fans feel that streaming services give a raw deal to musicians, and want to make amends for using them. Make it easy for us to do so.
2. Let me give a rating to songs, and let me see the ratings other people give them.
3. Even better, let listeners add comments and engage in discussions about the music.
4. Let me know the names of all the musicians on the record.
5. When I do a search for “jazz,” don’t just give me results that have the word “jazz” in the song or album title.
6. For every song, put up a link to the artist’s home page.
7. Tell me the names of the composers as well as the performers. This is a mustfor classical music, and helpful in other genres.
8. Give me a better look at the album cover—not just a thumbnail photo. And allow me to see the back cover of the album, too.
9. How about letting me read the liner notes?
10. Even better, let me download the entire CD booklet as a pdf.
11. Let me do a search by musicians who aren’t the name recording artist. Believe it or not, some people want to hear albums that feature Bernard Purdie or Elvin Jones on drums, or some other illustrious “accompanist.”
12. Make it easy for me to find out what people are listening to in other parts of the world. Some of us want to follow Brazilian music, K-Pop, African music, or some other regional style, and you aren’t helping us.
13. Don’t force me to log in with my user name and password again and again, just because I closed the browser window.
14. Let me sort search results by genre.
15. Give me more genre and subgenre choices. Punk rock fans don’t always care about that old time rock ‘n’ roll. Fans of contemporary classical music don’t want to hear Pachelbel’s Canon.
16. Certainly you can tell me the length of tracks and albums.
17. Let me sort search results by release date.
18. If a supposedly new album is just a repackaging or rerelease of old material, let me know.
19. Make it easy for me to find the songs I listened to yesterday or last week or last month.
20. Tell me more about the recording artist. Labels will give you artist bios—with a quick copy and paste, you could provide that info to us, too!
21. If an artist has recorded the same song on multiple occasions, help me navigate through the various versions and figure out which is the hit single, and which the lousy live date with poor sonic fidelity.
22. Don’t force me to download an app to my phone before letting me listen to music on my desktop computer. (I’m talking to you, Beats!)
23. Make it easy for me to browse all the new releases—and not just the titles you want to promote.
24. Don’t just rely on algorithms. Hire real human curators who know about music to guide the listeners.
25. And last, but by no means least: give us better audio quality. Every other form of entertainment—TV, movies, video games, etc.—has improved the quality of the audience experience over the last two decades … except for digital music. A high end audio system from 50 years ago sounds better than your degraded, compressed product. Do something about it!
I’m convinced that many of the economic woes facing the music industry are due to the above limitations. The dominant music services act as if songs were commodities, more-or-less interchangeable digital files designed to be consumed and quickly forgotten. But if the sellers treat their products with such disdain and disrespect, why should consumers do otherwise? Give us something better, and you might be surprised by the results.