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Why Music Ownership Matters

Ted Gioia at The Smart Set offers some insight into how streaming rather than owning has more fundamental impacts on music than many people may realize:

Music seems to have returned to the medieval era, when starving bards survived by serving the nobility, providing the playlist at a banquet where others were feasting. That’s a fitting metaphor for the new reality in music. The shift in economic models has been rapid and devastating. Apple could now acquire every major record label with just the spare cash in its bank account. But Apple CEO Tim Cook is too smart to do that. He knows there’s no money as a content creator — in fact, his company has worked to ensure that state of affairs.

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But there’s another problem in the music business, and it may turn out to be even more devastating for the music ecosystem. The transition from physical to digital music may be less damaging than the shift from ownership to streaming. Most people in the industry are complacent about the latter change. They care about cash flow — they want listeners to pay for streaming. But they rarely worry about how the behavior of music fans changes when they no longer own recordings.

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This is a big mistake. The music industry was built on the passions of record collectors. The album wasn’t just a physical object, but a lifestyle accessory, almost a fetish and talisman. People didn’t just listen to their records, they displayed them as quasi-holy relics. The album cover might seem irrelevant — a baby swimming after a dollar bill, a painting of a big banana, or even a blank white slate with only tiny text (The Beatles) emblazoned on it. But to the owners, these served as supercharged personal emblems. The image could change, but the message stayed the same: This is my music. This is who I am.

Read the rest of this great essay at The Smart Set.

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