A lot has changed since The Orchard opened its doors 15 years ago. Whether it’s the way music is delivered and played, or how it’s marketed and shared, there’s no tip-toeing around it: without technology, we wouldn’t have created the opportunities to develop the way we have.
Here are 15 technological advances that have marked us, in good ways and bad (though we like to think we took the bad and turned it into something positive!):
- Evolving Formats of Music and Music Players (from vinyl and MP3s to Walkman and MP3 players)
- Cloud/CDNs (Content Delivery Networks)/FTP
- Prosumer technology
- Watermarking/Fingerprinting technology
- Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA)
- API technology
- Social networks
- Mobile payments/Micro-transactions
- Pin Codes/QR Codes/USB Drives
And in more detail…
Consider it the house in which the Internet, your mail, your documents, your photos, your videos, and of course your music live. It’s a place where technology thrives and has an infinity of nooks to explore. It’s what you’re looking at right now, and most likely what you have to thank for getting the music you’re listening to to your ears as you read this. Need I say more?
Ah, the Internet. World Wide Web. Network of networks. By enabling and increasing the possibilities for human interaction, the Internet has made music and video a part of people’s lives in a completely unprecedented way. Of course, this inevitably changed the way music and video were distributed and monetized, and therefore altered the course of our business at the very core.
Furthermore, as the Internet continues to grow and bandwidth continues to increase, the delivery of big files — first music, then video — to stores has become faster and more efficient. The Internet and bandwidth are what make it possible for our clients to upload their audio and video releases through Release Builder and for us to send those files to music services around the world.
3. Evolving Formats of Music and Music Players (from vinyl and MP3s to Walkman and MP3 players)
Do I remember my first Walkman? Hell yes. I still have my collection of mixtapes and carefully written track lists in neat, tiny handwriting. I also recall the time I would trek around with my Discman and scores of CDs because I knew I couldn’t just pick one for the day, and the brief period when I thought Mini-Discs were cool. And then, my first iPod and the realization that with MP3s, I didn’t have to be as selective of what music I took with me or purchased on any given day… I could have it all.
From the ground-breaking advent of the CD, which increased the amount of music you could fit onto one disc, to the spread of MP3s and digital music, I could really talk about each format in its own right; but looking at them together better illustrates the real source of technology that affects our business every day and keeps us on our toes: the continuous evolution of formats and listening devices.
With digital music and Internet, it became significantly easier to share music. This opened the door to illegal file sharing via torrents or centralized servers, which took off “thanks to” services like Napster, Gnutella and LimeWire. Because music was now so easily accessible and (though illegal) now “free,” the industry was forced to think outside the box to keep consumers happy while still allowing musicians to keep their livelihood. This was not an easy task…
That’s where streaming comes in. It can be free for consumers (or cheap if they select a premium plan), yet can also be monetized for musicians. Win-win, right? Of course, there are arguments about the low payments and how lucrative streaming services can be, but as Spotify, Deezer, Netflix, Hulu and other services have proven, there is money to be made legally for artists using the technology that consumers have already embraced and tapping into the ease of sharing made possible by the Internet and digital music and video. With streaming, the goal has shifted from ownership to access and reach.
6. Cloud/CDNs (Content Delivery Networks)/FTP
Speaking of access, the development of Cloud technology, CDNs and FTPs have all helped and are helping our clients get their releases to us faster. Thanks to CDNs and FTPs, clients no longer need to mail in their physical assets and wait until we RIP the CDs, transfer their assets and push it to stores; they can simply upload their data to external servers and help speed up the delivery process. Cloud technology is still developing and promises to streamline this process even more as well as provide a place for users to listen to their music or watch their videos on the go, online and offline.
7. Prosumer technology
In line with the idea of spreading access and increasing reach, the development of ‘lite’ versions of professional tools like ProTools, Avid, FinalCut, etc. have allowed consumers to become ‘pro’-sumers, who can now essentially take the studio into their living room and cheaply create music or video from home. This technology, among other things, has made distribution valuable to the masses.
8. UGC (User-Generated Content)
Now that the sharing/distribution/access bug has spread, people who aren’t even trying to be professional can now upload videos they created to YouTube or Vimeo. They can record covers, put together digital shorts, share home videos, create their own sitcoms… The options are endless and force us to be diligent about monitoring where our clients’ content pops up.
9. Watermarking/Fingerprinting technology
With the increase of UGC on the interwebs also came an increase in use of unlicensed music as a soundtrack behind uploaded videos. Thanks to fingerprinting technology, we can now match files to our clients’ assets and monetize the content for them. Similarly, watermarking technology finds illegal files being distributed on the Internet (on bit torrents and file-sharing sites, as mentioned above) and removes them. We’ve partnered with several anti-piracy apps in our Marketplace that use these technologies, such as Haulix and Link-Busters, and have an entire UGC team responsible for supervising user-uploaded content online.
10. Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA)
Speaking of what’s legal and illegal, the DMCA, which was implemented to protect against copyright infringement, made it possible for companies like Grooveshark and Turntable.fm to legally exist. Grooveshark protects itself with the “notice and takedown” clause of the DMCA, and Turntable.fm complies by preventing users from actively interacting with its service (limiting number of songs played per artist per hour, preventing users from seeing past the current song, etc.), thus focusing more on music discovery rather than the intention of illegally accessing content.
The DMCA has also been at the center of several notable court cases, including the Viacom vs. YouTube case, which brought to light issues resulting from controversial “safe harbor” laws. Having to work with laws like the DMCA has compelled us to figure out how to best compensate our clients for all of their work.
11. API (Application Programming Interface) technology
An API is created with the purpose of facilitating communication between software. It’s this technology that has spawned apps like SoundCloud, which boasts an open API, making it easy for third-parties to create tools around it, and Hack-a-thons or Hack Days, where companies open their APIs to encourage engineers and developers to create new and innovative apps around the initial application.
We’ve used this technology to implement our Marketplace, making data accessible to a select number of handpicked applications so they can create tailor offerings for our clients using the information they’ve already uploaded into our system.
12. Social networks
While social networks first started out as a means for people to stay connected all over the world by sharing messages and photos — and oh, they connected A LOT of people! — they’ve since developed into social sharing beasts that encourage users to share just about anything they do online, including what music they listen to on Spotify and Rdio, what videos they watch on Hulu, what books they’ve read on Goodreads and so much more.
This sharing of activity was a direct result of Facebook expanding its Open Graph platform, allowing third party sites and apps to better integrate with the Facebook experience. For music specifically, streaming services across the board benefitted from this social sharing, tapping into the benefits of recommended music by trusted peers.
If any new band, filmmaker, app or service wants an effective way to get their music, film or product in front of millions of people, there’s no better way than to tap in to the already formed and growing social networks.
One way social networks have continued to permeate our lives is through mobile. With the advent and growth of smartphones, mobile has become a key player in how media is viewed and shared. The iTunes app store has more than 600,000 apps and it recently boasted 25 billion downloads. That’s a lot of zeros. [25, 000,000.000 to be exact.] Android apps aren’t too far behind at 435,000 and there’s no sign of these numbers slowing down.
Thanks to mobile, music and video can now be listened to and viewed just about anywhere. Not only that, but other apps like Shazam, 8tracks or Songify make it possible for mobile users to interact with music as well. Mobile has played a HUGE part in making music and video a part of listeners every day/every minute lives.
14. Mobile payments/Micro-transactions
With the spread of digital music as the main way users listen to music, purchasing single songs rather than full albums has become more common. The ability to purchase a song on your phone — as a result of the mobile boom — and just have it added to your mobile bill, and the possibility of purchasing ¢99 tracks one at a time are two other technological advances that have affected our business… for the better.
15. Pin codes/QR codes/USB drives
Hand-in-hand with the shift to mobile and access, you could consider Pin codes and QR codes. Having a unique code users can redeem for a download is great for tracking promotions like Dropcards or Starbucks Picks of the Week, and QR codes offering various methods of digital file delivery offer a new way to keep up with the rise of mobile. We’ve used all these tools in our interactive marketing campaigns and have partnered with apps like Dropcards and ShareSquare in our Marketplace.
As for USB Drives… Portable data storage devices? Yes please!
How about you? Which are the best tools you’ve used lately? What apps, services, advances have most affected your day-to-day? Let us know in the comments!