The late, great David Bowie got it spot on back in 2002. Telling the New York Times that music is going to become like “running water or electricity,” the Starman singer predicted the meteoric rise of the streaming subscription that last week confirmed its place in the upper echelons of the industry.
The fragile US music industry saw retail revenues from recorded music grow 11.4 per cent in 2016 to $7.7bn, according to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). This was thanks, in no small part, to a doubling of paid streaming music subscriptions which helped the American music business experience its biggest gain since 1998.
“For the first time ever, streaming music platforms generated the majority of the US music industry’s revenues... Streaming grew from just 9 per cent of the market in 2011 to 51 per cent of total industry revenues in 2016,” the RIAA confirmed, namechecking such services as Spotify, TIDAL and Apple Music.
It’s an impressive rise but the new technology has yet to truly capture any of my cash. I’ve dabbled in the “freemium” models for some services and I’ve purchased a few weeks worth of access to one particular streaming subscription. But that’s it. I’ve so far resisted, clinging on desperately to my vinyl collection and any CDs I still have from the 1990s that aren’t scratched beyond playability. That is, until now.
With the upcoming launch of Google Home in the UK and the advertising onslaught that Amazon is currently undertaking for its own smart assistant Alexa, it won’t be long before there’s a talking robot nestled between the books on my dining room shelf.
And there lies the major selling point for me. Call me lazy, but who wouldn’t want to shout “play Roy Orbison’s Crying” at a voice-controlled speaker when you’re about to embark on the chopping of an onion?
The British Phonographic Industry is already notably excited at the prospect, highlighting in a report that these assistants “are likely to evolve into our de facto musical concierges around the home and in the car.”
And it’s the list of smart commands that’s a real deal breaker. Amazon’s official list of voice commands for Alexa include some very vague human interactions that are likely to get some very interesting results. Think of how much fun you could have after demanding it to “play the top rock songs from 1988?”. Or maybe even: “Play that song with the lyrics ‘De do do do de da da da, is all I want to say to you’.”
It’ll be a party gimmick, the excitement will wear off after a few weeks – but ultimately it’s an enabler and will help me listen to even more music. Bowie would have approved.