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Music in the Cloud and the Digital Sublime
文章来源:www.www.swedenno1.net   发布者:学生毕业作品网站  

Music in the Cloud and the Digital Sublime

Author(s):Patrick  Burkart

Source:Popular Music and Society,2014 Vol.37,No.4,393–407

Published online: 05 Jul 2013.

Abstract

The paper reviews the “celestial jukebox” model of digital music distribution in light of its recent transformation into “cloud”-based music services. Elaborating on a prior history of the celestial jukebox business model, the paper identifies continuities with services built around music portals, updates the legal and business strategies of the most popular cloud-based services, compares core functionalities of cloud-based services, and discusses the cultural significance of an international youth movement opposed to the celestial jukebox under various national “pirate parties.” It speculates that the pirate parties envision counter-reforms to global information policy that are culturally environmentalist in their worldview.

The Celestial Jukebox: Where Are We Now?

Where are we now in the transition to digital distribution for media? McCourt and I wrote an early history of the sector in 2006, when the turn was not as definitive as it appears today. We called this model the celestial jukebox, borrowing the term from the entertainment industry itself, which employed it in the early 1990s to Lobby for the deregulation that later came with the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The celestial jukebox also makes an appearance in the Digital Performance Right in Sound Recordings Act of 1995 to refer generically to any interactive music service.

When we outlined a general model for digital distribution of music in the wake of the Napster watershed, we emphasized that, following Napster,there has been nothing new under the sun as far as the basic digital distribution model is concerned,except for some ill-tempered tweaking of the network architecture, the imposition of copy protection on files and surveillance of users, and ever-more reliance on sneaky service contracts and laws criminalizing non-payers. We saw a basic plan to impose discipline on music fans to be good consumers in support of the jukebox. What we did not expect was an intergenerational conflict over the basic design and implementation of the model, such as we see in today’s ever-expanding “copyfight.”

This general model was constructed using a social shaping of technology approach to telecommunications and media diffusion (Winston). In this approach, innovations must address real problems and needs to survive, but their radical potentials can also be suppressed by the drag of conservative incumbent players, the weight of social conventions and mores, and historical conjunctures.

Here, I take a shorter-term perspective and consider the development of commercial, online music services leading up to the cloud-based services such as Apple, Amazon, Google, and Spotify. Nearly 20 years on, the celestial jukebox is repackaged and resold as services delivered by “the cloud. ” Cloud computing is the delivery of meted-out services using virtual servers available over the Internet.I consider the social factors that have shaped their release. Music in the cloud—or remote storage of music—is an idea that was originally rebuffed by the major labels. For example, in the year 2000, MP3.com offered an online “storage locker” before it was sued by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), consumed by Vivendi Universal, shut down, and its infrastructure integrated into Pressplay. Why has this basic model reemerged, and so late? And, more importantly, how did the new model of digital media distribution come to generate a backlash marked by intense social conflict?

First, I will cover some history of the celestial jukebox through 2005. Then, I will compare some of the new features of the popular music industry landscape, focusing on the new players in the paid services area. Next, I will address how the big four music companies of the world became the big three through the break-up and reconsolidation of EMI. Big music companies got even bigger in a 25% consolidation of the commercial music market in 2011–2012. After that, I will summarize the change of the industry’s legal strategies in its never-ending inquisition and its pursuit of the punishment or conversion of non-paying music fans. Finally, I will describe the solidification of the Pirate Bay as a counter-model to the celestial jukebox, and its alternative political project to institutionalize resistance to the big three in the Pirate Party International.

As a consequence of maintaining a narrow focus on factors related to ownership and control of music formats, distribution, and carriage, I exclude other important considerations of this media history. Significantly, I bracket off a discussion of the economic consequences of the new model for artists, the qualities of the creations, and the creative sphere generally. These consequences become politicized in the intergenerational “copyfight” that is homesteading in the Pirate Parties in Sweden,Germany, and dozens of other countries, and in new social movements for digital rights (Burkart).

Old Players in Paid Services

Despite its deserved reputation as a stodgy industry not known for innovation and change, the music business was the first mover within the entertainment industry in bringing the vision of the celestial jukebox to market. This was because music files could be handled with relative ease with 1990s consumer PCs and slow Internet connections, as compared with video. The celestial jukebox’s functionality depends

upon the combination of digital rights management (DRM), or copy protection, and customer relationship management (CRM), or personalization. DRM locks down music to make it unavailable to non-payers. CRM individuates and personalizes the online experience and profiles users’ online behavior.

The technological puzzle pieces were large and relatively quick to put together.In the heady days in the 1990s, software start-ups competed with Microsoft and RealNetworks to develop delivery systems and copy protection systems for the dinosaur media companies. At first, the big five record labels tried to go it alone in

developing online portals, but soon joined together in various combinations with software companies such as RealNetworks and Microsoft that had developed DRM (copy protection) for music streams and downloads, and CRM (personalization software) for ecommerce servers. Their first years in operation produced sub-optimal results. None of the MSPs broke even. Customers preferred free music to paid services crippled with copy protection and restricted catalog offerings.

The Napster court decision formally removed free music from the field of competitors, and gave the major labels an opportunity to begin prosecuting file-sharers, which they did en masse. This illuminated, perhaps, the most visible and recognized form of resistance to the jukebox and its cloudy penumbrae. Music fans vetoed its business model ten years ago, in favor of free services that were convivial and based on the joys of discovering and sharing music in virtual communities, rather than in satisfying mere “pushbutton fantasies” (Mosco Pushbutton).

The initial resistance to music as a paid service was met by real and lasting harm inflicted by the record industry on young music fans, whom the industry carpet-bombed with tens of thousands of federal copyright infringement lawsuits.That spate of conflict burdened the industry with legal fees at a time of financial crisis,and the judiciary with the weight of the caseload. It also spawned a vast protest movement that is still institutionalizing (see below).

The earliest MSPs performed, as critics pointed out, like radios that got only half the stations. That is because each was owned by only one or two of the major labels,and was loath to market its competitors’ music. Under pressure from Congress and the Department of Justice to cross-license their online catalogs, the labels did so, just prior to divesting from the money-losing MSPs. Facing rapidlydeclining CD sales and rapidly increasing legal bills associated with pursuing file-sharing cases, the majors pulled out of digital music distribution, about the same time as Apple entered the field.

So began and ended a short period of major label experimentation with self-ownership of services for distributing music on the celestial jukebox model. The majors saw an opportunity to remake radio on an interactive, direct payment model,on their own terms and without the need to involve broadcasters. When these ventures failed to realize the mass appeal expected to come with the hype of digital distribution, a period of reckoning began. Users complained of burdensome and unwieldy interfaces, incomplete catalogs, high prices, and the tethers still needed to connect to the music. With elusive prospects for near-term profitability and a growing roster of unaffiliated competitors entering the market (including Apple’s iTunes store), the big five spun off their portals, writing off the losses while keeping most licensing agreements in place.

Facing continuing bottom-line pressure from a death spiral in CD sales, the majors consolidated ownership from the big five to the big four. They reinforced their defensive legal strategy of suing p2p sites and those suspected of being file-sharers, winning victories against Aimster and Grokster in 2003 and 2005, respectively. They dug in for the long haul, hoped that the market for CDs and the new high-quality CDs would rebound, and adopted a high-stakes strategy of changing the Internet culture of sharing music through a publicity campaign surrounding their mass litigation.

As soon as the RIAA began reporting figures for digital revenues and “shipments,” a strong consumer preference for singles purchases over album purchases became evident, and the preference has grown stronger. The implications for this preference for recording artists and the music business generally are difficult to overstate. Media economics would suggest that the rationalization of playlists rewards the most“shipments” of “units,” stimulating production and distribution of bigger singles catalogs. Apple iTunes sales have contributed approximately one-quarter of the demand for album and download sales since about 2010. Growth in the value of streaming music royalties collected by SoundExchange reflects a mass substitution of mobile downloads for streaming music services such as Pandora; this trend may reinforce the system’s preference for singles.

New Services

The cloud-based services continue the evolutionary trajectory of mobile music towards individuated, personalized, portable consumption with revenues generated through advertising or direct payments. Mobile music for personal consumption goes back to the transistor radio, the car radio, and the Walkman, of course, but these

technologies escaped the total control over the user experience and wallet that the celestial jukebox requires.

The cloud-based services remove the need for removable memory cards and cable tethers to personal computers, and use wireless connections for transferring data from a leased central database, or from a user’s own storage “locker. ” These services are possible only because of the fact that the smartphone, in particular the Apple iPhone 3, developed in a convergence of PDAs, mobile phones, and digital music players, and was tightly integrated into the Apple iTunes store. Most of the new services reviewed below were developed to steal customers from Apple.

Growth has returned to the music business, primarily because the smartphone/iPhone/cloud ecosystem has matured. The industry’s first sales growth in six years, at 5%, was reported in 2011 (Edgecliffe-Johnson, “EMI to be Split”), led by digitally distributed singles. But vinyl and even cassette tapes arebackon the shelves at many of the surviving retailers, often in collectors’ and deluxe sets, and sales of CDs have ticked up at retailers, despite the secular decline of physical formats. Therefore, we can say that many music fans are declining the proposition of the celestial jukebox and returning to music formats that they can handle, own, and collect. The competitors in cloud-based services, meanwhile, are racing to cross-promote, co-brand, and integrate with as many other platforms as possible to create ubiquitous services. Social networking sites, mobile phones, tablets, and car stereos have been the first platforms targeted.

High pricing and copy protection lingered in the cloud for long enough to dampen growth of user uptake. In 2009, Apple famously broke with the major labels and dropped strong DRM, permitting a limited number of copies of playlists. Apple also rationalized their price points for digital downloads—$.69, $.99, and $1.29 for singles and $9.99 for albums, based on what the labels charge Apple, and also differentiating by audio quality of the encoding for the first time. They also more tightly integrated downloads with the iPhone 3G, delivering first on the “cloud” promise. Apple bought Lala in 2009 and incorporated its streaming functionality into iCloud Match, for Apple devices only, as a subscription service.

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