Physical media, as we are all aware, is becoming increasingly rare in the digital age. In the first half of 2015, sales of CDs dropped once again, this time by over 30%, while the number of Spotify subscribers topped 20 million. The gap between people who stream or download music online and those who continue to buy actual CDs is enormous, and for a great many reasons too. Among them are the fact that streaming an album is ultimately less expensive, it can allow music to be easily synced with your other devices, and it allows you to manage a vast music collection without taking up any space.
Digital media therefore appears to be the future of how artists distribute their music, so much so that many bands are now choosing to only release their singles and albums digitally. However, fully embracing the possibilities of digital media may have some repercussions in the future, particularly in terms of how viable it might be to preserve.
Preserving art for future generations is absolutely essential. If we didn’t do it, we would not be able to enjoy music that was revered at the time of its release. Great amounts of classic music would be lost to time. Imagine a world in which we could never listen to beloved, historically significant works like Some Kind Of Blue or Abbey Road. It is something that has often plagued other art forms like the film industry, where movies like the debut of Laurence Olivier and an early Alfred Hitchcock feature have become lost.
Surely, with all the technology at our disposal, this couldn’t happen in the digital age, could it? Perhaps it could. Let’s use the music streaming service Soundcloud to demonstrate how it could. Soundcloud allows artists to upload their music for streaming. Its simple, free and democratic approach has made in a particularly favourable platform for independent musicians. As a result, there are over 100 million audio tracks on the website – more than twice as much as there is on Spotify.
However, Soundcloud is apparently haemorrhaging money. In 2014 it spent $64 million and made only $20 million in return. So, let’s imagine a hypothetical scenario where Soundcloud was forced to go out of business and its website was shut down, not unlike the way the popular gaming website Daily Radar did in the past or the UK mobile network Sainsbury’s Mobile recently did. If it did it could take with it millions of beloved songs that its fans may never be able to hear again.
This is an admittedly dystopian scenario and it is unlikely that circumstances would be this grave. The possibility of Soundcloud shutting down is almost as remote as it doing so without giving artists and listeners the ability to save their favourite songs. Nevertheless, it does challenge us to think about whether digital platforms are a really feasible way of preserving music for the future.