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1. Subscription Services Will Be Popular, But Not Profitable
If Spotify’s $26.7 million loss in 2009 is any indication, subscription services still have a ways to go before they’ll actually become profitable. Hell, Last.fm isn’t even turning a profit yet — although it could be getting close.
Still, this year and the end of last year saw services gaining even more steam — MOG launched its all-you-can-eat service in December, followed by Android and iPhone apps, and, most recently, an app in the Chrome Web Store. Rdio also launched to much excitement, and Slacker Radio announced that it would be launching an on-demand offering as well (possibly across a variety of devices to be unveiled at CES).
Yes, streaming music services have been around for a while now, but what’s changed in the past year is the number of devices you can access them on — everything from the iPad to Roku to the Xbox Kinect to the upcoming Chrome OS devices. The ability to listen to music on-demand across a variety of devices is sure to be a hit among consumers — it just remains to be seen how these services will monetize.
2. More Artists Will Finally Get Social
You know your friend in that band that never gets gigs? The guy who basically has no idea how to use Twitter and thinks Foursquare is a playground game? Well, even that guy is going to start realizing in the coming year that he can’t just keeping sticking his head in the sand where social media is concerned.
I mean, Billboard recently tapped Next Big Sound to gather stats for its “Social 50″ Chart; we’re talking about a publication that’s been around since 1894 paying attention to social metrics where artist popularity is concerned. Let’s hear that date again: 1894. So basically the fact that you’re over 30 is no excuse for not having a social media presence.
Add to that MTV’s burgeoning interest in the social space — its assignation of a Twitter DJ and the launch of its new music discovery tool — and you’ve got a lot of eyes on the digital sphere.
In the coming year, I see more artists following in the footsteps of socially savvy bands like Kanye West (for better or worse), Ben Folds and Pomplamoose, and learning how to use social tools to their advantage.
3. Music Videos Will Continue Their Renaissance Online
This past year, a very sizable player entered the online music video space: Vevo, which launched at the end of 2009. In just one year, Vevo has become a very worthy adversary to sites like MTV.com when it comes to hosting music videos, and MTV, for its part, has started amping up its online/on-air video output as well.
Now, we’re not saying Vevo has single-handedly sparked the renaissance of the music video, but it has helped give the format a kick in the you-know-what. That platform, coupled with the growing ability of artists like OK Go, Arcade Fire and Kanye West (he’s everywhere on this list) to create true cinematic, and sometimes interactive masterpieces — which are the bread and butter of the viral web — have ensured that online music videos will continue to be eminently shareable in the coming year.
4. Ping Will Never Take Off — Never
Apple’s new social network, Ping, launched to much excitement this year, only to disappoint those of us in the media who were keen on replacing MySpace with a new locale for music discovery. Why? Well, there were scant few bands on the site at launch, and two months out of the gate, the site boasted only 2,000 artists. (The process to get an account on Ping is not as simple as creating a username and logging in; Apple needs to vet bands before granting them access.)
In the ensuing months, Ping has made an effort to become more social, adding Twitter integration and social playlists, but the site’s focus — predictably — seems to be more on commerce than social. For example: Yes, you can create and share playlists, but you can’t use your own songs to build said playlists — you must assemble them from iTune’s song previews. So, basically, by sharing playlists users are creating free advertising for iTunes rather than trading tunes.
Yes, MySpace may be suffering some financial woes (and a bit of an identity crisis), but it’s obviously a much more social sphere than a place for commerce (which may explain the financial woes). Case in point: It just added a suite of fan management tools for artists. Ping may not die this year — Apple is a tenacious beast — but I don’t see it gaining any traction either.
5. Music Piracy Will Not Die
Despite the looming spectre of the COICA Internet Censorship and Copyright Bill, people will continue to file share and steal music. They’ve been doing it for 10-plus years and they’re not stopping now.
Unfortunately, artists will continue to have to find creative ways to take advantage of the leaky nature of the web by adopting pay-what-you-wish models (a la Girl Talk and Trent Reznor) and taking advantage of the buzz that a leak builds (a la The National).
That’s not to say that matters are looking sunny for artists. It’s likely they will have to continue to diversify their methods of garnering cash by ramping up touring and licensing deals.