Apple's got one thing wrong – Music

OCTOBER 10 2011

I exclaimed after Spotify’s launch this past July:

Not since Napster have I been this excited about music.

And now, that I think it through, it should be:

Not since Napster have I been this excited about discovering music.

Napster was the reason why I spent sleepless nights during college poring through undiscovered troves of music. It was access to a whole new universe. My life went from discovering the best track on a CD to finding new artists, genres, live sets, and brilliant remixes. Best of all? It was all free.

Apple’s got one thing majorly wrong, and it’s their stance on ownership of music. It was a hackneyed band-aid to appease the labels. They were the pioneer of digital music, but because of it, they’re behind. iTunes and the iPod provided utility and convenience. Sure, 10,000 songs in my pocket sounded great at the time, but looking back it was never that exciting. Spotify + Facebook is.

Music has always been a social activity. iTunes’ pay-to-own content model is inherently not. Facebook shunned Apple’s Ping music service because what’s the fun in seeing that your friend is listening to Feist’s new track, clicking on it, getting a 30 sec preview, then begging you to buy?

With Spotify it’s seamless: On Facebook I see what friends are currently listening to, click on it, and begin seamlessly listening to it instantly. Want to share an entire playlist with complete strangers? Just tweet the link. Subscribe to it if you want, it’ll update whenever the owner makes a change.

Want to hear what the music supervisor to Entourage listens to? Sure, just click here. Wait, did you say Thom Yorke has a playlist too? Yep. With iTunes, this would all seem promotional. But with Spotify, it just feels right.

What’s even better? Because I subscribe to Spotify Premium the music auto-downloads to my phone over WiFi. No messy cables, no per-computer licensing problems. My only gripe is the mobile experience needs a lot of UI work. But it’ll do for now.

Everybody should read Sean Parker’s email to Spotify. He’s a brilliant guy with creative foresight.

Something that caught my attention was when Parker mentions “grey content”:

There are vast repositories of “grey” content on people’s computers across the world. This content is often forgotten by the labels and publishers. The fact that you have a client and P2P capability will allow you to someday unlock all of this content…this goes way beyond the master music catalog that is licensed to you by the labels. A big part of Napster was the joy of discovering various remixes, live recordings and other obscurities that copyright owners have literally lost track of.

This is so right. The Dave Matthews Band has legions of loyal “tapers” who haul expensive equipment to concerts to make high-quality recordings. Artists like Henry Saiz are discovered through their brilliant remixes of popular artists. It’ll be interesting to see what happens in this space.

Music is exciting again because access trumps ownership. Your move, Apple.