The Future of Music

A few weeks ago, I finally had a chance to read Kusek and Loenhard’s book The Future of Music: Manifesto for the Digital Music Revolution. Given my interest in technology, digital media, and music, a number of people had recommended the book to me in the past few months. Glancing through chapters and entitled “How Technology will Rewire the Music Business” and “Futurizing Some Popular Music Industry Myths,” I was immediately excited to dive into this book after I purchased it.

At the core of the book is the analogy that “music [in the future] will be like water: ubiquitous[,] free flowing,… mobile, shareable.”

It will be a utility, available everywhere, just as water is for us now. The authors maintain just as we don’t pay for a single usage of water today – in the shower in at the gym, at a drinking fountain, or in a public restroom – we won’t consciously and directly pay for music in the future as it becomes pervasive in our lives. Of course, there will be instances of pay-per-listen “premium” music, just as we have premium bottled water today, but the open and everywhere model will dominate.

Kusek’s and Loenhard’s thought-provoking metaphor challenges the reader to think about the implications of how music is both produced and consumed, along with how emerging technologies will potentially facilitate changes in those behaviors. If as we transition towards viewing music a service utility instead of a pure product, then what does that mean for those who create music, facilitate its distribution, and enjoy it? The “music like water” analogy provides a tangible example to aid us in exploring these consequences.

However, strength and credibility of the arguments put forth in this “manifesto” started to wane as I continued reading. The authors are clear in their biases and perspective, which could be refreshing. Yet much of the remainder of the book reads like a piece of anti- record label propaganda with little regard for valid opposing positions:

“The end of ‘music as a product’ may mean the end of the record label as we know it.” (page 39)

“Today, in the full consideration of the current ‘jail the file sharers’ campaigns that RIAA et al are promoting, we have nothing but another round of oligopoly-led McCarthyism.” (page 43)

“We will have to accept that the current copyright regime – and it is most certainly a regime – is not a default requirement for creators who want to make a living of their art.” (page 51)

The author’s overt name-calling and axe-grinded detracted me from the main focus of their argument: that file-sharing and other forms of digital distribution will continue to enable great change in allowing people to consume the type of music that they want, when they want it, and how they want it. Like I’ve written previously, this theme of technology giving users more control over their consumption doesn’t just apply to music, but to all content. I just wish that the authors of The Future of Music didn’t spend so much time mud-slinging to make this point.

David Beisel

David Beisel is a co-founder and Partner at NextView Ventures. He has been focused on early stage Internet startups his entire career, both as an entrepreneur and venture capitalist. As an investor in the digital media space, David was most recently a Vice President at Venrock and previously a Principal at Masthead Venture Partners. Prior to becoming a venture capitalist, David co-founded Sombasa Media, an e-mail marketing company best known for its flagship product BargainDog. Sombasa was successfully acquired by where David served as Vice President of Marketing. David holds an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and an AB in Economics, magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, from Duke University. He also founded and leads the Boston Innovators Group, an organization which holds quarterly entrepreneur events drawing a thousand attendees.