Industry Opinion: The Future-Proof Music Library

We buy music on one platform, then another arrives. Will music ever be truly portable and transcend boundaries set by the formats we favour?

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As music fans, we've all been collecting albums and tracks for years and have pretty sizeable collections by now.

If only those collections could come with us when we migrate to new music platforms in the future.

Let's picture how a typical music fan's collection might look. There will be a bunch of CDs, certainly from their younger days. They might have a few records, either from decades ago or more recently after taking an interest in special edition boxsets by the likes of Radiohead. They will probably have a huge digital collection inside an app like iTunes, either from legal purchases or copying tracks from friends or the internet over the last decade. And, more recently, they might also have a library of playlists inside Spotify.

Music collections are a real mess.

While there are solutions for compiling all this audio into one place for one platform - for example, you can scan CD barcodes into Covify to import them as Spotify playlists - it's not ideal. What if some albums aren't available on there? What if you want to take your new fully-compiled Spotify library to another platform in the future? Is Spotify going to lock you in?

An inherent problem with music is that it's tied to the format you buy it. Compare this to, say, mobile phone numbers. If you switch contracts, you can take your number with you. Sadly, this isn't true with music.

There are glimmers of hope for people who want to build a forward-thinking music library, even if they don't completely solve the "portable music" dream yet.

Tomahawk is an app that draws music from public and legal sources like Soundcloud and YouTube, and helps its users get around geo-restricted content (something our non-US readers will identify with). It can pull playlists from Spotify too, which helps avoid an inevitable Spotify lockdown one day. Best of all, it's an open source project so you don't have to worry about commercial interests getting in the way of its noble music mission.

A similar new platform, albeit with commercial intentions, is Musicplayr. It just raised 500,000 ($651,600) to build essentially the same kind of app as Tomahawk but is using its capital to hire the kind of designers Tomahawk could only dream of. Tomahawk might trump Musicplayr on features, but first impressions count for a lot and web users might gravitate towards the superficial bright lights of Musicplayr instead.

Of course, if either app were adopted by the mainstream, labels and artists will probably take down their legal music streams and brand it as "the new piracy" - but that discussion can wait. For now.

Whichever app you opt for, their progressive attitude towards what a music library should be are driving a change that could stay with us for years. When users don't even have to think about how their music is accessed, other than trusting it uses legal sources, that's when we'll finally have a chance of collecting a universal library that stays with us forever.

Tom Davenport (@TomDavenport)

24 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    howrylak1
    I just ripped all of my CDs myself and backed it up with an external harddrive. Problem solved
    death4077
    There is no such thing as "Future Proof"
    Jesus_Dean
    Yes, there is! You can go out and see a band play live. Best format I've heard yet. ...it's just a little impractical when you're riding the bus, LOL.
    blinkdragonid
    Depends who you see live. Back in the day they they sounded the same live and on records. Now theres too many effects to make anyone sound good, heck even make me sound good!
    tukk04
    Buddy Jesus is right, go see some local bands and stop worrying about f-ing format and go have fun and jump around at a show.
    brndnstffrd
    Buy CDs, rip music onto whatever platform or format you you want. Problem solved.
    fanA7X6661
    Music collections are a real mess says UG...I don't know, my iTunes library is pretty organized.
    getawaygman
    I'm so annoyed by these "free music but legal" things. they just piss me off
    SalsaShark561
    I agree. You don't really get to support your favorite bands that way and they're not really THAT good at helping you find music. I don't see why there's so much hype over them.
    Strummerboy Leo
    It's not an issue for CDs, but most vinyl (or at least most of the records I buy) come with a download code. Cassettes are obsolete and CDs you can just rip onto your computer, so I really don't see why this is even necessary. Having said that, the app seems pretty cool.
    Kill-Em-All
    simple, just dont use itunes spotify or any app that holds your music. Sucks if you have a mac or iphone though
    baumaxx1
    CDs or FLAC files... pretty future proof and you can convert them to whatever you want. What's the issue?