In the last few decades, the way people listen to and discover music has changed in seismic ways. Streaming services are changing the rules for both music lovers and the music industry. It might not yet be a universally accepted, but streaming is certainly where the future lies.
To understand what the future of music listening will look like, we should reflect on the past, and how our listening habits have changed over time. When we listened to vinyl and CDs, physical distribution was a key point that made one music company stronger than another. When MP3 downloads became the groundbreaking model, the size of the catalogue became paramount.
So now we are in the era of streaming, but what will the next few years bring? There are lots of players in the field, and they are looking to stand out through things like seamless streaming quality and delightful user experience, unlimited choice and social sharing features. As the competition heats up, most services are racing to add more and more new features to stay ahead.
This is great news for highly knowledgeable, technically capable music aficionados, who are willing to pay high prices for unlimited choice and a plethora of innovative features. But not everyone is a committed music buff willing to invest the time and effort into finding the next big thing. For most people this level of choice and complexity is a bit overwhelming. All of us love music, but most of the time we simply want to listen to it because it makes us feel good and puts a smile on our face.
So how does this outlook on music translate to the ideal music service? It would be something that is easy to use, gives you the music you like with very little effort and does it anytime and anywhere. It brings joy to your life with minimal effort. Simply put, it gives you more than it takes.
Digital music strategist Mark Mulligan recently wrote about what he calls the 'complexity coefficient of music services': a complex sounding name but an interesting trend that will shape the way you listen you music in future. Mark groups services into what he calls "Access Services" and "Listen Services". He says: "The on demand subscriptions that monetise access - 'Access Services' - (are) highly sophisticated but therefore also complex, with the longest music journey." They cater for the aficionados.
At the other end of the spectrum, he lists "Listen Services" that simply let you listen to the music you love with minimal effort. "Services like Pandora, MusicQubed's O2 Tracks and Nokia's MixRadio delivering highly programmed, lean-back music experiences for the mainstream - "Access Services" give the user access to all the music in the world, "Listen Services" take the user straight to the music that matters. One leads the user up the garden path, the other just opens the front door." They are for the rest of us.
To build Mark's brilliant analogy, I would add the advantage of Listener Services to the average music lover is not only the 'lean back' approach, but the combination of a really simple experience with a high-level of personalization that happens in the background. A complex, highly personal experience delivered as something extremely simple and requiring little effort. All of the results with none of the hard work.
So the future for music streaming will be a case of less is more, which is more challenging for the companies involved than the easy option of just adding more features. For me, the future will focus on removing the clutter and the unnecessary technical complexity that stands between you and the music The future will be in a truly personalized experience that brings you the music you actually want to listen to and that makes you happy, with minimum effort on your part.