Librarian’s Reading List: The Future of Music

By Michael Stephens | Michael Stephens Head ShotExploring the Future of Digital Entertainment

This will be the first of a few posts about books that have rocked my world in the last few months that I would suggest to all librarians who want to understand our current and future technology landscape.

“The best selling CD of 2004 was BLANK."

I'm still reeling from Apple's big announcement about downloadable video last week while I was in London for the Internet Librarian International conference. Thanks to my colleagues who texted the news to my Treo! This is a perfect segue to a post I've been pondering about a book that has really inspired me.

Strangely, I stumbled across The Future of Music by David Kusek and Gerd Leonherd in the iTunes audiobook section. Both fellows are music industry futurists who look forward into the next ten to fifteen years and report what they believe will happen with the music industry. Certain points resonated deeply with me. And watching Steve Jobs's Web cast of the Apple event brought the point home: Kusek and Leonherd are probably right! The authors also have a Web site and you can read the first chapter here. From that chapter:
    It is the year 2015 and you wake to a familiar tune playing softly. It gets you out of bed and makes you feel good. As you walk into the bathroom, your Personal Media Minder activates the video display in the mirror, and you watch a bit of personalized news while you get ready for the day. You step into the shower and your personalized music program is ready for you, cued up with a new live version of a track that you downloaded the other day. It is even better than the original recording, so while you dress, you tell your “TasteMate" program to include the new track in your playlist rotation. You put on your new eyeglasses, which contain a networked audio headset, letting tiny earbuds slip into your ears. You switch on the power, and the mix that your friend made for you starts to play. Music pours into your consciousness. It becomes yours.
I was reminded of that paragraph watching Jobs demonstrate the new Apple remote that easily calls up music, movies, and more via the Mac. I am not intending to be Mac-centric here, because iTunes is available for Macs and Windows machines. Apple's place as forward-thinking innovator, however, is solid. What they innovate becomes the norm. Remember Fall 2001 and the release of the first 5GB iPod? Now iPods are EVERYWHERE. Jobs reported 75% share of the MP3-player market. Interestingly, in TFOM, the iPod has come and gone. Instead, music streams to headsets, speakers, and media centers.

The “TasteMate" is a system that learns what you like and selects media for you. iTunes 6 includes a beta version of “Just for You," as do other sites such as At the end of this post, I've included a screen shot of what may become part of my “TasteMate." (When you look at the shot below, note this has a long way to go. In my mind, buying The Cluetrain Manifesto does not lead to wanting to read Bill Clinton.)

The authors discuss the music industry in depth and point to a future of no CDs and no DVDs–just streaming digital entertainment directly to our plugged-in and connected lives. Cost, of course, is addressed. Their theory: that music, entertainment, and access to information will be billed at a rate lower than cell phones as delivery mechanisms become cheaper to build. This model is subscription-based. You pay monthly for access to the global jukebox of all music and more.

Segments of the book include a focus on the up-and-coming `Net generation, a population librarians must be prepared for; myths about the music industry; and details of how the current music service models need to change to remain viable in the future.

They conclude with some trendspotting. Users will expect diversity of choice – a “long tail" of entertainment and information. We will all become our own programming directors for our personal information and entertainment channels. Technology will become ubiquitous.

And my personal favorite is certainly a trend to watch for, and one I've been working into recent talks: We are moving into the Age of the Heart. Information, they write, must make a connection to the “subliminal…to the heart… to make the connection meaningful."

What does an emphasis on the heart offer: “…experience, identity, aesthetics, esteem, impulse, and emotions," note the authors citing a report from the Copenhagen Institute of Future Studies.

So what does all of this mean for libraries? For one thing, only once in the entire book did the authors mention libraries. And sadly, as Jenny pointed out previously, it seems like these models skip libraries and go directly to the user. What becomes of the Audio Visual department? Stephen Abram recently told folks at the Illinois Library Association meeting that CDs and DVDs will be gone from our libraries within five years. What will replace them in our library spaces? Servers of music? Listening stations? Download stations?

I kid you not, there are libraries making this work. Maybe the library can become a key player in providing content, such as South Huntington's iPod Shuffles or Chris Kupec's email to TTW last March about iTunes kiosks. Maybe librarians can become key players in licensing content for their users, such as the libraries in Europe.

We might also learn how to build better services and libraries by understanding such futurist thinking. As we design new services to reach our users where they happen to be, we should focus on experience..and create an identity for the library and ourselves… and remember that emotion may be a guiding factor. Does your new building make users happy? Engage them with space or art? Does it offer a way for users to express themselves, such as digital creation stations for recording of user-created `casts of all types or hands on access to the latest technology? Simply put, does the library have an identity within its community?

Give The Future of Music a read or listen, and let me know what you think.
Tastemate graphic