Top Online Music Trends in 2011

Dec 1, 2011



Music has been a huge part of the Web since the days when Geocities-hosted fan sites offered Nirvana MIDI files and 15-second clips of songs in WAV format. A decade ago, we saw the rise and fall of Napster, from the ashes of which rose a new era of digital music, led by the iPod and iTunes Music Store. Today we have access to more music than ever before as well as the tools for creating it.
 
Music is still a huge - and growing - part of the Web. This year, we watched a number of trends unfold in digital music space. Following are ReadWriteWeb's Top 5 Online Music Trends in 2011
 
1. Music Moves Toward the Cloud
 
2011 was the year we saw our music collections begin to make their way toward Web-based repositories. First, there was the rise of all-you-can-stream music services like Rdio and Mog. That particular space was lit afire by the July U.S. launch of Spotify, which did not go unnoticed by its competitors, most of whom dropped their entry level price tags down to zero in order to keep up.
 
With these services, consumers move from playing MP3s on their hard drives to streaming tracks from the cloud, whether at their desktop or from their smartphones and tablets. In the case of Spotify, that cloud-based library of millions of tracks can even be merged with one's own local collection, providing a theoretically infinite library of music.
 
This year, we also saw the emergence of cloud music lockers. This model is a bit different from the streaming services in that it takes a person's existing collection and allows them to store it online for playback from any connected device. Amazon launched their Cloud Drive in late March, having already operated their own MP3 store for some time. The service allows music fans to upload and store their collections to Amazon's servers for streaming later.
 
Amazon's model is quite similar to the one offered by Google Music. The new initiative added a digital music store on top of it, putting the service in direct competition with Amazon Cloud Drive.
 
Apple unveiled iTunes Match alongside iOS 5 and iCloud in June. Like Amazon and Google's solutions, iTunes Match enables access to one's collection across devices. Apple's offering does not support streaming, but rather requires listeners to download tracks locally.
 
2. Online Music Gets More Social
 
For as long as there have been Web music services, there have been attempts to bolt on social networking features. Some, like the Ping feature in iTunes, have fallen flat. Pandora has managed to become a relatively successful service without baking in very many social features at all. By comparison, Last.fm and Rdio are way more social.
 
As popular as it is in Europe and now the U.S., Spotify never had any ground-breaking social features of its own; just the ability to share playlists and tracks over Twitter and Facebook and plug into other services like Last.fm. That all changed at the f8 developer conference in September when Spotify became one of a number of music services to get tight integration with Facebook. Facebook's integration with music services is just the beginning of a more social experience when it comes to listening to and discovering music online.
 
3. Recommendation Evolves: Man vs. Machine
 
Digital music recommendation engines are nothing new. Pandora and Last.fm have provided listeners with algorithmically-determined suggestions for years. In 2011, as new music services cropped up left and right and the selection of available music continued to expand, listeners still found themselves with a thirst for solid recommendations for what to listen to next. Pandora continued to serve as an attractive Web radio option, with its powerful recommendation engine fueled by the Music Genome Project. Last.fm boasts a robust community and its music recommendation algorithm is often used by other apps (including Spotify), from which users can "scrobble" their music, creating a detailed profile of listening habits that can be used to discover similar artists.
 
A music recommendation system many have used, often without knowing it, is The Echo Nest. Their platform powers dozens of music apps with over 5 billion data points about music and various associations between different artists, albums and songs. To date, the Echo Nest Platform has indexed over 30 million songs, far more than Pandora.
 
As powerful as these machine-driven recommendation engines can be, there's still something to be said for human curation. For evidence of this, look no further than the popularity of apps like Shufflr.fm, a service that turns human-edited music blogs across the Internet into dynamic, genre-based radio stations. It takes a step away from the algorithm in favor of tastemakers, kind of like in the old days. Shufflr.fm received heaps of praise from the tech press over the summer and recently launched its iPad app, making unique music discovery experience portable.
 
4. Group Listening: Turntable.fm and Beyond
 
The value of this human touch in digital music curation was also seen in the rise of group-listening apps in 2011. The biggest and most buzz-worthy was Turntable.fm, a virtual group-listening and DJ'ing Web app that sparked several copycat sites.
 
Turntable.fm allows users to get together in a virtual room and take turns playing DJ for one another, using music stored on their computer's hard drive. In September, the company brought this group listening experience to the mobile space when it launched an app for iPhone and iPad.
 
5. Music Creation Goes Mobile
 
Creating it is now easier than ever, thanks to a growing array of digital tools. In 2011, we saw Apple roll several of these concepts into one when it launched Garage Band for iPad, and then scaled it down for the iPhone and iPod Touch. It's not the first music recording and sequencing mobile app to appear, but for the price tag ($4.99), it's easily the most powerful. Garage Band for iOS includes dozens of synthesized instruments, which can often be pretty expensive when purchased as stand-alone apps. It also has several "smart" instruments for the less musically inclined.
 
Like its desktop counterpart, the core function of this app is to record and sequence multiple tracks of music. Using external accessories, one can even record vocals and guitars. Garage Band for iOS and apps like it provide an early glimpse of what's possible on tablets and smartphones, two categories of devices that are still relatively young.
 
It was a good year for SoundCloud, a social audio-hosting site that has grown quite popular among amateur and professional musicians alike. Big labels and known acts are using SoundCloud to post and promote music, while smaller artists and laptop hobbyists are finding audiences there as well. Think of it as sort of a YouTube for audio.
 
Like so many other popular Web services, SoundCloud pushed further into the mobile space this year, launching apps for iPhone, Android and iPad, among others. Users can not only use the service's mobile apps to stream and comment on music, but they can also record and post their own tracks right from the app.
 

 

Tags: trends, music, online, cloud

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