As we begin a new year, with all the self-reflection that often entails, I'm not afraid to admit my many addictions. Nothing illegal or immoral, of course: smartphone addiction, computer gaming addiction. But I'd say there are few things more important to me than music; I listen to music whenever I can, and I've always had an insatiable need for new music at every available opportunity. So I was a little disturbed when I saw a recent press pitch about cloud computing technologies heralding the death of the CD.
First of all, I'm all in favor of cloud music players. In the past year, I've become a devotee of Spotify in particular because it lets me choose the music I get to listen to, as opposed to Pandora and other services which provide only radio stations based on your tastes. With Spotify, I can choose a new album or artist and listen repeatedly, which lets me decide whether I want to spend money on that particular music. If I do choose to buy something, my first choice is still to get the CD.
Yes, I'm old school. I like the CD because it usually contains lyrics, sometimes liner notes or other track information, often some interesting artwork or artist pictures (at least from the bands I follow). Sure, I know most artists include this information on their websites these days. But the CD is also a high-quality hardcopy backup, even if you listen to your music digitally or through a cloud service. However, when I read the press pitch from Karl Volkman, CTO for SRV Network, I had to begin rethinking my approach to music: Maybe I've been doing it wrong.
Here's the quote from Volkman that shakes my worldview: "With the advent of ever-improving technology, we are seeing online music platforms expand and professional-level audio products now being offered to the mainstream. There’s no question this will make old school products like CDs a thing of the past." It's not just Spotify, of course, but more specifically platforms such as Apple iTunes, Amazon Cloud Play, and Google Play Music, that both sell digital music and let you store your music collection in their clouds, making it, in theory, available on any device, anywhere.
At first blush, the concept seems quite attractive. And then I start thinking of all the problems. First, nothing is really free, and these services all come with their costs, whether it's an annual fee or the privacy you yield to Google any time you use one of its services. Second, "anywhere access," as always, really means "anywhere you have an Internet connection," and if you're streaming music, it had better be a pretty solid connection.
Finally, I'm not convinced that any one service can really satisfy my diverse and eclectic tastes in music. For instance, I had a large Barnes & Noble gift card to spend after Christmas. I ordered five CDs online, ranging from progressive rock or progressive metal (Spock's Beard, Porcupine Tree) to Celtic/folk (Gaelic Storm, Alan Doyle) to big band/swing (Lee Presson and the Nails). As much as I like Spotify, even that service only hits maybe 75 percent of the music I'm looking for. Therefore, I'm not convinced that settling on a single cloud music service going forward would be practical for me.
Nonetheless, I feel somewhat compelled to investigate the services that are available, particularly if CDs truly are going the way of the dodo. Fortunately, I spend most of my time in areas where I get good 4G connection on my smartphone, so if I switch to streaming music from the cloud, I might be OK -- and save the hassle of loading music onto my phone. (Until recently, I used an iPod specifically for my mobile musical needs, but it finally reached its fatal end-of-life a few months back.)
This is the point where cloud music and business IT might begin to come in contact -- or, indeed, conflict. As consumer services such as music providers become more ubiquitous, with the promise of anywhere, anytime access, it's only natural that workers will use their smartphones or tablets to access this content, and do so during working hours. The problem -- if it is a problem -- is only more pronounced when you work in a BYOD environment where employees have a reasonable expectation that they can use their device for personal as well as work purposes. Add to this the number of younger, digital natives entering the workforce, and the number of employees mixing work, cloud, and mobile device access is just likely to skyrocket.
Of course, from the business side, you can take steps to make sure steaming music and other cloud connections don't overwhelm your network. Appropriate security policies backed by good user education is usually the best way to start. Through mobile device management (MDM), you could control or block what apps users have access to on mobile devices if necessary; however, I find that being too restrictive most likely leads to grumpy end users. Be sure that your policies are based on sound reasoning.
I know there are many more issues surrounding music -- rights management and regional differences; artists versus records companies; illegal downloading or pirating -- all sorts of other stuff that has played a role in the decline of CDs and the rise of digital downloads and cloud music services. Ultimately, as long as the creators are getting paid for their efforts, I guess the format doesn't matter all that much. (Yes, as a content creator myself, I fully back the artists' right to be properly rewarded for their efforts!) In my life, I've witnessed the death of 8-tracks, vinyl albums, and cassette tapes, but CD is the only format I witnessed the birth of, which I guess makes it a little harder to say good-bye.