Music in the future will all be on-demand. Exactly what I want to listen to wherever I'm at and whenever I want. The mp3 player didn't just radically personalise music listening it dematerialised the LP, the CD and any other form of embodied music artefact. Most effectively it also rearranged the basic underpinnings of the album bringing it closer to a radio show. The power of the playlist, the great single track lifted from the mediocre album created a whole generation of party-tune curators much to the chagrin of DJs and producers everywhere. The music industry is currently mired in legal tussles related to industrial era ideas of ownership but eventually one side or the other will win. Whatever right? Well kind of. For music fans not much will change, we'll still be able to share and download, whoever owns the riffs we love. But… we could be on the brink of a shift in perspective where intellectual property is redefined as belonging to society or interest groups or special fan clubs even.

Much of existing thinking is related to the exploitation of existing catalogues such as Michael Jackson or The Beatles. These are seen as assets to be constantly marketed and creatively packaged, contextually rejigged etc. This is pretty much what the pharmaceutical industry does with its drug lists. It doesn't really have anything to say about how music is used or made and is more or less unchanged since Elvis outraged 1950s parents and Chess Records ruled the airwaves.

The interface is the part of music consumption that's going to change the most and the accessibility models that will make these interfaces possible. Massive bandwidth is one part of the puzzle and it seems to be well on course to expand to enable constant real time streaming and wireless downloading. The much resented stranglehold of itunes will pass as new ways of making money from music such as kickstarter emerge from grass roots. There'll always be room for the maverick impresario but their energies will be devoted to new audiences, new channels and new interfaces.

The technology for making music remains mostly stuck in digital simulation of analogue sounds and there's a lot of smart thinking behind making music experiences more real, adaptive to environment for example and ever more naturalistic. This come through most in speakers or headphones ie playback technology. But that's not really where it's at. The exciting ideas are firstly in sharing and community and secondly in tying music listening to the world around us.

There's a lot of work going into ingenious algorithms at the moment. Shazam and Spotify lead the field and are widely acknowledged as brilliant but there'll be others along very soon. What about a music app that knows where you are and plays you an album by an artist who lived or recorded nearby? Or music tied to galvanic skin response receptors in earphones that plays music to fit your mood? What about following the development and recording of an album over a few weeks or months by your favourite artists? or live data on what your friends are listing to right now? Twitter for music…

John Fass

Line art by jtchan on deviantART

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