Will Music Downloads Disappear in Five Years?

Will Music Downloads Disappear in Five Years?

downloads disappearIt’s one thing to turn on Pandora and listen to streaming music.  It’s another thing to download songs from iTunes and listen to them whenever you want to, again and again.

But some people believe the popularity of downloading music from places like the iTunes store is in decline, and will eventually be eclipsed by free online radio services like Pandora and on-demand services like Spotify that let users listen to millions of songs for a monthly fee.

Bob Lefsetz, a former music industry lawyer, was quoted in a recent Salt Lake Tribune article as saying that downloads are on their “last gasp”: “YouTube is where most young people listen to music now.  When iTunes turns 15 years old, we won’t be talking about downloads, because Apple won’t be selling them.”

iTunes just celebrated its tenth birthday, so we’re talking about the disappearance of downloads in just…five more years?

Here at Fusion, we believe in keeping up with times and tech as much as anyone, but still, we’re skeptical about such a quick extinction of downloadable music.  Michael McDonald, co-founder of ATO Records with Dave Matthews, echoed our thoughts when he said, “My generation and probably the generation after me still have this idea of ownership and pride in what we own in a record collection, and I think we always thought it spoke to who we are.”  But he went on to say that for younger and upcoming generations, “the idea of ownership in the way that we thought about it is irrelevant, and I think they’re just consuming content, and that’s not better or worse. So in that way, the subscription models are going to make more sense.”

2gun, guitarist for hardcore band Bloodoath agrees with us, and he makes a good point about having more control over your music when you download it yourself.  “I would love to see people still downloading and purchasing music, but that is coming from a musician. I do think that downloading will not become completely obsolete but it is definitely going to be declining in the future due to Pandora, Spotify etc. But still, loyal and diehard fans will download the music just because you will be able to not only own it, but listen to your favorite artists and songs when you want to and not have to wait for a random play list to make its cycle.”

Lisa Lim, East Coast axe slinger, singer and songwriter, thinks downloads will be sticking around a while too. “As a songwriter and artist, I believe fans and music enthusiasts will continue to download music from iTunes and direct from artist websites in a continuation of embracing the music and artists they love,” she told Fusion, but also expressed concern for how artists will be compensated if downloads disappear completely.  “(Downloads are) certainly a part of an artist’s livelihood and it is quite saddening to believe that a day could eventually come when all artists lose complete control of their music.”

Also making a great point is Nathan Kondor, drummer for the L.A.-based band George Glass, who noted that the disappearance of downloads could be bad news for audiophiles everywhere.  “Depending on the fidelity of the stream, the listening experience will be diminished by not having access to quality digital download formats, i.e. FLAC.  If you compare it to the 20th century analog formats, it would be like only being able to listen to a radio station and never being able to buy the vinyl.  That might be fine for some people, but the audiophile will seek greater fidelity.  If large commercial sites like iTunes or Amazon stop offering downloads, legitimate sites like bandcamp may be an alternative. People also may resort to more file sharing, or black market sites.”

Think of this, too: even if you have access to millions of songs for a flat fee, who’s to say that every subscription service will have all the music you’ll ever want to listen to – particularly if it’s “vintage” and/or obscure?

It may be a generational thing, but there’s also something in the way we experience music that changes when we’re unable to own and command a track or album.  As singer/songwriter Shauna Burns told us, “I personally download the music I want instead of using Pandora or Spotify regularly because when I listen to something I’m totally engulfed by it.  I need to listen to it over and over.  I think of Pandora, etc. as a place to find new artists but when I find them I need the ‘real goods’.  Also, I feel strongly in supporting the artist directly.  I love that we have all these different ways not only to find new music but to get the music out to the world.”

And what about the monthly fees associated with subscription services?  Some of us don’t like the idea of paying a monthly fee for the rest of our lives for the privilege of on-demand music.  Downloads allow you to capture that one song for, say, $1.29, and own it forever.  Pay once and you’re done.

How do you guys feel?  Can you see yourself never downloading a song or album again?  Can you picture yourself paying every month to be able to listen to the music you want, when you want?  Let us know, either by leaving a comment here or chiming in on our Facebook page.

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