Music Distribution Format Wars:
What's Coming Next?

Image of WinAmp Audio-Video Player
WinAmp® the bestest desktop audio-video player of all. It really whips the Llama’s ass.

Like many of us, my love for music began as young boy when I bought my first vinyl audio recording. Bob Dylan’s (1969) recording was one of my first.

Bob Dylan
The vinyl recording was the first format used to distribute music commercially.

 Record albums were pressed in “vinyl” in those days, a material which nearly went extinct when other formats came along; formats which were less expensive to manufacture, less expensive to distribute and perhaps most importantly to be considered –more convenient– for people to buy and use.

Them ol’ automobile manufacturers never figured out how to put a record turn table in a car so when we took our sweethearts to the drive-in we had to settle for eight track tape players.

I’ve heard it said Waylon Jennings gave Conway Twitty the nickname “Mr. Panty Dropper.” I’ve been playing guitar and trying to sing like Conway Twitty for decades but I’m telling you, back in the day they called boys like me hoods and we were way hipper than jocks because hoods knew the secret to hitting a home run with a girl was an Elvis tape.

Picture of Elvis eight track tape inserted into automobile tape player
The 8-track tape in homes and automobile tape players disrupted the vinyl recording format.

The 8-track tape format had its day and tried to hold on for dear life. Capitalism and the ever present pursuit of the better mouse trap brought us the audio cassette tape format invented by Lou Ottens a Dutch audio engineer.

Picture of the inventor of cassette tape
Lou Otten’s audio cassette format disrupted and replaced the 8-track tape format.

Not to be left behind the Japanese took the world by storm with the SONY Walkman® becoming a huge success as the way to playback audio cassette tapes as we roamed far and wide taking our music with us. I actually still have a Walkman and use it when occasionally taking walks to ponder my navel.

Picture of the Sony Walkman cassette player
The SONY Walkman audio tape cassette player crica 1979. Portability. Convenience. Social status. What’s not to like?
The audio cassette format was inexpensive to manufacture and distribute but the tape itself was prone to bind in the playback machines giving everybody one big pain in the ass. The march of progress had its way and the Compact Disk (CD) emerged.


Picture of the Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs CD
The CD (Compact Disk) format disrupted and replaced the audio cassette tape format.

The CD format kicked ass and remained viable for quite a long time. Easy to manufacture and reproduce every band in the world that had not yet made it into retail began selling their self-produced CDs at every venue they performed at. The bands wasted no time learning to market their own product selling it direct to the customer.

However, not unlike Little Miss Muffet who sat on her tuffet the pace of technological change moved rapidly and many were caught sitting on their tuffets as the spider came to sit down beside them.

The spider was “streaming” an “access anytime and anywhere” distribution format by means of the Internet, the World Wide Web and the “freemium” business model that not only disrupted CD it radically changed the quality of the audio. People traded audio quality for convenience. Listening to music on a cellphone is not unlike going back in time and listening to music as if one were listening to AM radio with little teeny earphones on.

No tangible format like tape or plastic disks were needed anymore thank you very much; just pay your monthly streaming bill and sit down at the trough to consume as much content as you can afford to pay for. 

Picture of streaming audio video service providers
Streaming Media Services HDTV streaming media services disrupted and replaced analog CRT-TV broadcasting.

Media brought to you by convenience and the exploitation hacking human behavior to always want something free has always been a successful  means of providing instant gratification.

Although viny recordings, CD and DVD formats remain in retail their sales have taken a big hit. After all, it is very difficult to compete with bits and bytes that are given away free as the means to lure customers to the buy button.

Even the streamers are vulnerable to better mouse traps. The mouse trap that can and to an extent is already disrupting streaming is Near Field Communication (NFC.)

Picture of an NFC tag surrounded by logos of many streaming audio video service providers.
The streaming audio services that disrupted the CD format are becoming disrupted by the emergence of Near Field Communication (NFC.)

All that stands in the way is time and the understanding by song writers and musicians that the use of NFC can and will disrupt the streamers and put the power and financial rewards of what is created back into the hands of the creators themselves.

No App. Just (((tap)))®

Follow up with this video by Rick Beato who explains why the record labels are no longer relevant to musician’s wanting to monetize the music they create…

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