Industry Opinion: We Need Another iPod Moment

Digital music revenues and the iPod went hand in hand through a revolution in the 2000s. Is there hope for another iPod moment to kickstart digital music, or will it be suppressed by newer visual mediums?

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Remember when iPods kickstarted the digital music revolution?

I remember a guy at college who was nuts about iPods. I didn't know what they were, but the way he described it made it sound like a mythical piece piece of metal from the future.

Now I realise he was just another Apple fanboy a rarer breed back then but ultimately, the hype was accurate. It really did come from the future.

Today, even tablets don't represent the cutting edge of tech. They're great, but already a 'today' device rather than something that beamed here from tomorrow. The dream of immersive musical experiences remains limited, and I'm yet to hear the same kind of fanboy hype about iPads as I heard with those chunky, monochromatic iPods ten years ago.

Music needs another iPod moment.

That's the argument presented by Mark Mulligan, an independent music analyst. He accepts that the CD era is coming to a close, and that even digital music giant iTunes isn't driving the kind of growth in sales we've come to expect.

"The CD and iTunes combined account for approximately 78% of total recorded music revenue in the world's 10 largest music markets. And yet neither look like they are going to provide the momentum the music industry needs over the next few years," he posted on Hypebot last week.

Mark argues that music is no longer a pivot from which Apple can centre its business. Back when iPods played music and did little else, it was easy to focus on audio as the killer feature. Not so today; tablets beam with games, apps, books and a jungle of visual media that puts music firmly on the backseat. It was once the single compelling reasons to draw new customers to the Apple fold. Now it's a DVD extra.

This wouldn't matter if the success of digital music hadn't been inexorably tied to the iPod over the last decade. "As soon as iPod sales slowed, so did the digital music market," explains Mulligan alongside this graph. "Prior to 2008 the digital music market had grown by an average annual rate of 85.2%, after 2008 that rate dropped to 7.5%. In many markets the 2009 slowdown was of falling-off-a-cliff proportions: in the US digital growth slipped from 30% in 2008 to a near flat-lining 1% in 2009."

We can argue that iPhones were the device that prompted the drop in iPod sales, but there's a clear link between the original iPod and digital music revenue.

The public have moved to vivid new pastures, and music streaming services remain an appealing concept. But the music business could really do with another iPod moment, whether it's from Apple or any other tech company, where audio is the unique selling point. Whether this is a realistic proposal amid the current visual landscape is for the revolutionaries to solve.

By Tom Davenport (Twitter)

64 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Krieger91
    At this point..how about a chip you just install in your brain which will allow you to hear music just by thinking: "play:*song of choice*" We'll call it the iChip. And then Samsung will come up with a better, more customizable Samsung Galaxy Chip and Apple will sue them.
    eVwaylon
    seen on the science channel last night that that technology is just around the corner.
    Syn166
    I don't think my ADD could handle that.
    sideslick
    Realize how lucky you are. I KNOW I would be unable to cope with brain-music when I have to deal with ADHD, OCD, high-functioning asperger's syndrome, AND bipolar disorder. I win(?)
    vppark2
    would u need headphones?
    eVwaylon
    I think the way they were talking it was all in your brain. Like you could call up any information u want. Since your ears pick up the sound and deliver it to your brain, maybe they bypass the ears and have the sound being simply experienced in the brain. ?
    Lightning_Ray
    If there's no side effects to it, that'd be perfect. You wouldn't bother anyone on public transportation, no matter how "loud" the music would be, and your ears wouldn't suffer any damage.
    UGtom
    Worth considering how impressive existing technology already is. A chip in your pocket which plays any song if you just ask it...
    Gexzilla
    And I'm still going to listen to my cowon player, because I care about sound quality while apple cares about being shiney and pretty.
    SOAD_SoG
    Carefull now, If Dave Mustaine hears you, he will start his conspiracy theories again, and include Obama in it somehow.
    SIEGE312
    All I can think of is Futurama and the EyePhone. Shut up and take my money!
    clapton6
    I'm still a cd guy. I do have an ipod, but I rarely get music off itunes. I transfer music from cds to ipod, so I don't want that to go away ever!!!!!
    Scourge441
    This is why I don't like CDs anymore. I buy it, rip it to my computer, and then never use it anymore. But I also don't like iTunes, which doesn't let you download CD-quality audio. So if I pay for a download, it's going to be from Bandcamp, which gives me options. But if I have a choice between CD and vinyl, I'll get the vinyl and then just pirate the album for use on my iPod.
    Crazyedd123
    I like buying CDs if they have interesting sleeve artwork or liner notes (King Crimson's 40th anniversary stuff has this). Plus, it's just nicer to feel like you actually own the CD as opposed to simply downloading it.
    GhostsIV
    I agree - I only feel compelled to buy CD's when there is something novel about them, such as limited edition, cool packaging, etc. When I do buy music, it's either CD or direct from the artists website. Never gonna buy off itunes.
    fleaonnj4
    I had the same problem with my CDs, but then I just started putting them in my car and now I have immense amount of CDs in there where I just listen to full albums, no ipods or playlists allowed.
    Scourge441
    I also prefer listening to full albums, but most car rides aren't long enough to listen to one, and I hate interrupting them in the middle. So I'd rather go to shuffle, where I'm not really interrupting anything.
    Krieger91
    I will aslo start doing that. I know you don't use the CD anymore, 'cause the computer is just so much more convenient, what with the search function and playlists and all. But I still want a physical CD collection. Having it all digital, even though it's all I will use, is not enough.
    2jpe2
    From a technical standpoint, itunes only has higher then cd quality downloads, most CD's are either 192 or 256 kbps audio, iTunes bottoms out at 256kbps and uses a lot of variable bit rate that let it go higher, some iTunes downloads are even in set 320kbps audio if the recording was done in high enough quality. (Amazon mp3 is the same way BUT .AAC (itunes) files lose less of the mix then .mp3 files do). There is no real reason to stay with CD's over digital music (doesn't mean I don't have my own collection and still buy them). Vinyl still has its use but CD's, like tapes, are outdated. Sources: http://lifehacker.com/5810575/does-bitra... http://lifehacker.com/5810575/does-bitra... http://lifehacker.com/5810575/does-bitra... http://lifehacker.com/5810575/does-bitra... Primary Source: Download audacity and find an identical audio file of one song except with one as an aac and one as an mp3
    GhostsIV
    You seem very uninformed about audio bitrates. CD's are uncompressed, so their bitrates are much greater than mp3s.
    Scourge441
    What? CDs don't have MP3s on them, they have lossless audio data. Did you even read the link you posted? Because it explains the difference.
    Danjo's Guitar
    I like cd's, because then I actually own the thing. Plus I have a hard copy, in case my computer gets ****ed. And actually I love the little booklets that come with albums. If I could buy a digital copy but order one of those little books, I'd probably be more likely to get digital stuff.
    jonthomas83
    I personally think that until we get back the quality that has been lost through MP3 and iPods we're never really going to see another device that makes the music industry go "boom" again. I know that there are tremendous costs to getting a good Hi-Fi audio experience, but for me, a device that has a high storage capacity and can deliver pristine audio signals would be the next big thing I'd purchase. Until then, cloud storage doesn't interest me as it just doesn't deliver what I want. This is my personal view, I completely understand that MP3 and iPod/iPhone audio are perfectly adequate for others.
    GhostPlayground
    Actually (and i'm not joking about this) but microsoft's Zune has pretty high audio standards that easily surpass the iPod, which might actually explain why Apple started a smear campaign against the Zune. Also, alot of the time poor quality audio is the result of poor quality headphones. You would be amazed at the difference in audio quality you'll hear if you put on a pair of studio-headphones and listen to music instead of buds or skullcandies. Also, don't buy beats by Dre, Skull candy, or any other designer headphones. Oftentimes they magnify certain frequencies that shouldn't be magnified and alter certain sounds that shouldn't be altered. Studio headphones are usually a lot more neutral.
    jonthomas83
    Indeed, good quality headphones make all the difference. I don't have any experience of the Zune, but I've been considering the Cowan stuff lately, they seem to care about audio, would be good to check that out one day.
    archangels
    Zune >>>> iPod I wish more people would've realized this before Microsoft killed it.
    Dude475
    Well, if I rip a cd I don't have to waste time redownloading the music. But it's still nice to have the iCloud and cd backup. Because iCloud only backup the music you have bought from iTunes. Plus CDs give you the actual artwork
    Kueller917
    As storage data becomes cheaper I hope FLAC, or any lossless audio, becomes more common. A full quality FLAC surpasses any other digital format, even CD. I think though even if FLAC became widespread amongst portable devices there would still be storage issues since new iPods seem more focused on being a gameboy than a music player.
    omidmash
    FLAC means lossless, as in not compressed like MP3s are. Therefore, the quality of FLAC is the same as the original CD, if the CD itself is not compressed audio. You can't have any higher digital quality than lossless. However, I'll stick to vinyls.
    Kueller917
    You can render out a 96kHz FLAC. CD's are 44kHz. Of course this gets to the issue of who can actually hear the difference, if it makes a difference at all, and whether or not you have a good enough system to make use of the difference.
    jwalk3r
    Vinyl's and CD's will never grow old for me. Seeing how everything is digital I'm open minded to where they will take things in the future but for me it's about supporting good bands that make music for their fans.
    Shuei5
    Still using the old Ipod - I don't need a million features, games, books etc etc. I need music, and preferably as many MB as possible for as little money as possible. Besides, aren't everybody talking about that streaming stuff as the "future"?... Not that I find it to be that interesting.
    Dark Canuck
    To hell with the "iPod moment". Long live vinyl. People need to learn how to sit and enjoy music in it's entirety.
    BigDrK
    Same old belief that everything must grow, forever. It better be more tomorrow than it is today or they'll wonder what's wrong. Is it broken? Will things get worse later for it?
    link no1
    Wow at the amount of comments along the lines of "I'll stick with vinyl". Hell, I own a lot of vinyls just for the sake of they are nice to have but c'mon, they aren't as great as they are being made out to be.
    LightxGrenade
    http://www.ted.com/talks/pranav_mistry_t... I believe this technology has a good chance to become the next breakthrough. This vid is 3 years old and the technology has moved forward but I feel this video was the most interesting on the subject. If you got 15 minutes to kill, watch this video it's pretty interesting stuff especially at the end where he shows how far he has gone with the technology with just a bit of funding. Imagine just looking at the logo of a band, or looking at a guitar in real life and instantly accessing their next tour dates or the price of the guitar in other stores.
    baumaxx1
    It's already happened. Streaming is the next 'ipod' moment; the next advance in the way music is consumed. What we don't need is one company to have a monopoly on the whole bloody market like Apple did with the ipod. Apart from a faster CPU and better screen, it's stagnated as a music player. Limited codec support, average battery life, unusable stock eq, and they still put out a product which audibly produces clipping distortion. ... but yes, current streaming services improved, and FLAC offerings in stores are what we need. You can't really go any further than that since the physical medium has been eliminated and we already have smartphones and ipods that do all of that. Apart from the brain chip thing, but I don't see that being too healthy.
    UGtom
    Streaming is the next 'ipod' moment; the next advance in the way music is consumed The post is really about whether a device can be launched that centres around music being the killer feature, but that drives purchases. Streaming comes close, but it's really hoping for something tangible and iconic that can do the same. An unrealistic dream, perhaps.
    baumaxx1
    Ohh, well ipods and phones both play digitally stored files and stream. What can they do next?
    Jazz1992
    This title reminds me of a line in Iron Maiden's Face in the Sand: "Everybody is waiting for something to happen". If you just sit down and say: "We need this and that to happen" it's pretty much like entering a recording studio and saying: "OK, we need to come up with a new song." Not going to happen. Not with that approach at least.