Digital Music: We’re Doing It Wrong

What should the Internet sound like?

Last Friday, De La Soul did hip hop fans everywhere a solid. To mark the group’s 25th anniversary, they made their entire catalog available for free download. Digital access historically has been an issue for the group. They have a place in the Library of Congress, but not in iTunes. And digital access continues to be an issue for the group. Last Friday’s free download didn’t initially work.


When downloads don’t work.

De La Soul’s story is one of many that have surfaced in recent months. Four Tet’s catalog downloads didn’t work for anyone who couldn’t cope with Sendspace (including the artist’s dad). Beyonce’s late night drop almost broke iTunes. Her husband didn’t fare much better. The launch of Magna Carta… Holy Grail was plagued by app crashes.

The idea of a legit audio download ecosystem is as old as iTunes; ten years, to be exact. It’s 2014. And we still haven’t managed to build music for the Internet.

These artist stories aren’t outliers. Digital music sales have slowed for the first time in a decade. Maybe the download, as a format, just doesn’t work.

Or maybe it needs to work differently.

Video killed the radio star, 2.0.

Streaming media is poised to be music’s next wave. It’s now a $1BN industry in the US, alone. Today, more than 23% of Americans get their music from streaming services. It’s worth noting this rise. It’s worth noting where it’s coming from. YouTube is now the Internet’s dominant radio station (at least among kids). Not Spotify. Not Pandora. We’re watching TV for the music. This is a fundamental realignment of music’s meaning, online: it’s a social, visual object; more than an audio file.


Image via.

The rise of 3D storytelling.

Within this context, the rise of vinyl doesn’t seem weird or anachronistic. It makes sense. The Internet has restored our appetite for music as an experience; something to be seen and heard and felt and shared. The artists who are listening are the artists we’re listening to. Bangerz was endlessly Instagrammable; an album built to spread. Beyonce was all backstory; image and idea, embedded in song. Digital music isn’t built for this. It should be.

Bundle: on building a better media object.

Internet song craft is challenged by resilience. Downloads break. Digital radio strips music of value: they’re soundtracking, not storytelling. Our goal is to change this.

BitTorrent Bundle is an Alpha project designed to address the flaws and faultlines of digital distribution. It’s a better media object. Bundle is based on distributed technology. This means content scales, as it’s shared. More people downloading your music actually increases the strength of the the file, and the connection.

And this makes music more meaningful. Bundle was built for big ideas; the stories that can’t be contained by a flat streaming platform, or a byte-capped .zip.

Since January, more than 9.2 million BitTorrent Bundles have been downloaded. Within the past month, we’ve seen storytelling projects from Lucy Walker’s documentary film, The Crash Reel, electronic producer Gramatik, and from Curren$y. We can reinvent digital storytelling. We can make it more resilient. We can make it richer. A better future for music might begin with something as simple as a download.


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