10 Digital Music Predictions For 2011

By this point in January you might be a bit sick of journalists predicting things. Especially as it’s not always easy to separate genuine trends-in-embryo from nuggets of PR-seeded hype. Case in point: right now the tech world is blogging its balls off in praise of Quora, a Wikipedia-meets-Twitter site that a lot of influential people have decided that this is the next big thing online.

Trouble is, it’s hard to gauge Quora’s mainstream potential, since at the moment it’s just full of journalists following each other and waiting for something to happen – a bit like when you arrive at a party too early and it’s really awkward. The point of the site is to ask questions. Right now the main query people seem to want answered is, ‘Er, what’s all this about then?’

Still, at the risk of getting it just as pathetically wrong, here are a few predictions about the coming year in online music. And if they don’t come true? What are you going to do, check back in 12 months’ time and flame me? (Please, don’t do that).

1. Streaming will stop looking like the future…
Spotify lost £17 million last year, and key albums keep getting yanked from its library. Last.fm has never turned a profit in eight years. Last year, Sky Songs died, and We7 scaled back its unlimited on-demand ambitions. OK, new services are still being launched – such as Sony’s Music Unlimited, but it’s becoming clear that ad-funded streaming simply doesn’t make financial sense.

Certainly, Spotify’s failure to launch in the US – apparently because of major labels’ prohibitive cash demands – suggests labels are losing faith with the whole concept: their business is still in flogging stuff, whether in physical or digital form, not renting it out.

2.…Which means piracy will flourish
Last year saw the passing of the Digital Economy Act, and legal action against The Pirate Bay, TV Shack and Limewire. None of it made a blind bit of difference, since the war on file-sharers can never be anything more than a desperate game of whack-a-mole. Spotify represents the industry’s last best hope against, and if that hasn’t worked, frankly nothing will.

3. Bands will stop using Myspace
Poor old Myspace – the only reason anyone still uses it is to listen to bands. But how long can that last? Sooner or later musicians will shift to a new platform – but which one? Bandcamp is already popular with indie types like Sufjan Stevens, partly because it makes it easy to make money from fans without iTunes taking a cut, but it’s not a great social space for users.

No, the real future for bands is on Facebook. It’ll never be the home of music the way Myspace is – do you think mark Zuckerberg can be arsed to negotiate with major labels when his company’s already worth $50 billion? – but with the advent of Rootmusic it’s now possible for bands to build proper, slick band pages on Facebook. It will be huge.

4. Gig-going will become more social
Well obviously it already is social, unless you go and you stand on your own like Morrissey. What I mean is, as more and more people start checking in to shows using Foursquare or Gowalla, and start organising their gig calendar on Songkick, and showing off their tastes on music-based dating sites like Tastebuds, you can see how gigs might cease being something you go to with friends, and become more somewhere you go to meet new people. And possibly get off with them.

5. Google Music will arrive… and won’t make much difference
Everyone’s assuming Google’s music store – almost certain to launch this year – will be the iTunes killer we’ve all been waiting for. I’d love that to be true (I bet record labels do too), but Google aren’t infallible: look at Buzz and Wave. There’s every chance Google Music will dribble out in the style of Apple’s Ping and everyone will ignore it.

iTunes in the cloud – which some people think will be launched around September – will be a bigger deal, but not because it’ll usher in a wider on-demand revolution a la Spotify. It’ll just mean the music you’ve already downloaded can be streamed to your phone.

6. Corporate tie-ins will abound
Last year the wheels really came off, thanks to partnerships such as Faithless and Fiat (their video for ‘Feeling Good’ doubled as a car commercial) and er, Blackout Crew and Pot Noodle. Younger music fans have no concept of bands ‘selling out’. I’m not sure I even care anymore. So this year: Katy B Brought To You By Hyundai. Why not? Bands need to eat.

7. Music videos will get more interactive
Last year saw Robyn’s Twitter-integrated 3D video for ’Don’t Fucking Tell Me What To Do’, as well as Chris Milk’s acclaimed user-modified videos for Arcade Fire and Johnny Cash. You can expect more innovation along these lines. Hopefully this will be the trend that defines music video in 2011, rather than yet more indie promos with “NSFW” zoom-shots of the bassist’s cock and balls.

8. Fan-funding will go mainstream (no really)
The standard journalistic line on fan-funding is to mutter something about Public Enemy and then go, ‘Oooh look, a sparrow!” It is, in fairness, quite a boring subject. Yet in the past year, without fanfare, fan-funding has evolved into an intriguing sort of anti-corporate underground culture. And it actually works: Pledgemusic has enabled bands such as Gang Of Four, Madina Lake and Funeral For A Friend to record albums, outside the traditional record label system.

9. Music apps will suck less
OK, so Gorillaz recorded their new album on an iPad, but while there are plenty of decent music apps, there are surprisingly few for actually streaming and discovering. Aweditorium is the slickest music discovery tool I’ve seen, thanks to its magazine-like look-and-feel, but you can’t help thinking there’s untapped potential there.

10. Downloads will get cheaper
Amazon’s price war on iTunes intensified at the tail end of 2010, with the online retailer offering deeply discounted MP3s and special offers galore. That’s a taste of things to come. Last October a former major label boss said the price of albums should be slashed to £1. Come the end of 2011, that might not seem quite so mad an idea.