No Tears For Internet Radio

A lot of people are extremely upset about the impending death of internet-radio darling Pandora, and for good reason. Some lame folks have decided that internet radio sites must pay higher fees than their terrestrial counterparts, and it’s forcing a lot of stations to close down or cut back on their programming. Just yesterday, Pandora announced that they would be restricting their service to listeners in the United States in an effort to at least survive for the time being.

There’s no question that the fees are exorbitant and ridiculous (at the moment, it seems, the hike is on hold), and that they apply unevenly to web broadcasters. But even though I was pretty upset when I first heard about it, I’m over it now, and I don’t particularly care if Pandora bites the big one. In fact, I might even welcome its death.

Here’s why:

Success is Impermanent
Websites and web apps (especially free ones) will come and go. If anything, we need to understand this and maintain perspective on these services. The ones that work - work. The ones that can stay - stay. The guys who can figure out how to make money by offering something compelling deserve to survive, and they will. We don’t need this to turn into Bubble 2.0 and it’s imperative to remember that most things aren’t free and can’t operate without making money. Which services are most important to you? Which would you pay for if you had to? Which would get the boot? Which are replaceable? What would happen to your habits, your data, your life if everything suddenly went offline?

It’s Not Good Enough Yet
Pandora is cool, and the Music Genome Project is revolutionary, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. It was an ad-supported listening experience, which means it was an ad-controlled listening experience. What you hear is limited to what the advertisers will support (unless you pay for an account). I could never get into Pandora because it wouldn’t let me skip tracks. I also can’t save tracks, sync to my iPod, play multiple streams at once, pick songs. These are artificial limitations that come from an implicit subordination to the big bad Record Industry. The death of internet radio opens a space for services that free music to exist how it is meant to. Sharing, exploring, remixing, recreating - music as conversation. Radio is newspapers - static, fixed, irrelevant, dying. Something better will come along in time. Something more open. Where artists are in control, and aren’t forced to turn themselves into parodies of themselves and they can just write and perform and record and release whatever they want, whenever they want.

We Shall Overcome
The will of the people is strong, and the law cannot contain it (as we saw this week with the Digg explosion, for example). Laws will change. Business models will evolve. The future does not look like today.

Art Will Not Die
Art will not die. Free will not die. Nature returns to Nature in time.

Songs ≠ Music
Pandora, radio, CDs, iTunes - all of these uphold a notion of music as delineated chunks of ordered noise called songs. I firmly believe - firmly - that songs are not music’s true, natural form. Songs are a product. A form devised by record companies in order to more easily commoditize music. Digestible nuggets that are easily quantifiable. Art is not quantifiable.

More and more music is becoming an integral part of nearly every waking (and sleeping) moment of our lives, and with this ubiquity, the concept of song becomes more and more unnecessary. By sharing, remixing, mashing-up, and building off of the work of others, we begin to experience music again as an endlessly large fluid organism that is intimately interconnected with all of the sights, sounds, smells, people, places, feelings, thoughts, and dreams that together are called life. What we call music is but a piece of something far larger and far freer than we can really comprehend. Songs are illusions - music does not exist separate from the world.

Of Course I’ll Bring Up The Tree
If a tree falls while you are listening to Ashlee Simpson, isn’t the sound it makes now as much a part of the experience as the digital bits which, when read by a proper scanning laser create what our ears and brains and pasts interpret as the sound of guitars and drums and singing? And even if you failed to hear the tree, did it not just smash the butterfly which may otherwise have caused a tidal wave on the other side of the world? How can that not be exquisitely important?

What’s Next?
The future of music is connection, communication, conversation. Freedom from regulation, freedom from commodification, freedom from the illusion of separation. Everyone is a musician.

Never stop playing.