|Is your music okay up there? From Freestock.ca|
This week in The New Yorker, classical music critic and writer Alex Ross wrote an essay about the state and future of online classical music. You can read the whole essay here.
Amidst some dalliances about his favorite obscure classical music, Ross does not look kindly on the state of today's online classical music. Is he just an old curmudgeon dreaming of the good-old past, or are these concerns not quite so easily dispelled?
I think his main concern with online music is quite solid: online albums don't make as much money for the artists as physical copies (nor do the streaming services), unless artists are already famous, making it less sustainable for the long-term creative marketplace. This the main reason I still buy physical albums myself (aside that online music is usually licensed, instead of bought). Ross also suggests that physical record collectors are now seen as hoarders, carrying around shelves of albums when a small hard drive or even the ethereal cloud storage could do. As someone in the middle of a move now, I think he may have a point, especially since those little plastic boxes usually end up a landfill (I'm glad many CDs are now packaged in cardboard, but the CD itself is still there).
Ross's other problems with online music, however, bear some additional scrutiny, especially from a music librarian's perspective: online browsing capabilities are severely limited and liner notes with their pictures and information are often absent. These problems are not insurmountable, however. A browsing tool could be developed (albeit with difficulty), and liner notes and other metadata could be added to make an online collection more searchable and informative. However, this kind of data detail and development takes time and money for which neither music producers or consumers seeming willing to pay, at this point. It should also not be difficult to create a "Listen Again Pile" online tool; in fact, I do this already with a "listen again" playlist in iTunes.
So, is the moral of story that consumers should just be willing to pay more for their music and the information attached to it? Maybe. But the draw of online music is partially based on being freely or cheaply available, so perhaps some other monetization strategy needs to be developed. Which I guess is literally the million (if not billion) -dollar question.