Music Industry

The New Democracy of Music is…Choice. And Lots of It.

On Wednesday, I’m going to appear as part of a panel discussing the current music landscape at a CRTC summit on discoverability. Much of the two-day affair will be about how to sort through the noise to find just the media you want. In my case, I’m speaking on the topic of music discovery.

Basically, there’s just too much damn music out there. The traditional filters–radio, record labels, record stores, video channels, music magazines–have long been disintermediated by the infinite choices offered by the Internet. In theory, that’s fantastic. More music for everyone, right? Instead, though, it feels like we’re all wandering through an infinite Blockbuster Video c. 1997. Where’s the good stuff? I like this, but what if there’s something better than I just haven’t found yet? Better keep looking.

Because music is so cheap (free!) and plentiful (unlimited!), we spend far too much time searching for it and nowhere near enough time savouring it. Our attention spans have shrunk. We don’t treasure free music as much as the music we once had to pay for.

The result is an endless series of superficial relationships with artists, songs and (occasionally, but grower ever less so) albums.

We’re never, ever going back to the way things were when we lined up to spend hard currency on pieces of plastic. So where do we go from here? This article from Medium (via Bobby) offers a solution.

Long before “Netflix & Chill” was synonymous with sloppy Tinder finger-banging on a loveseat gifted from a family friend, Netflix was actually a different frontier altogether. Netflix is a symbol of unified consumer choice for a fee. In fact, Netflix has proven to be the great unity point of movie and TV consumers across the planet; if you’re not paying for Netflix, you’re probably stealing someone else’s password. (*Coughing loudly in the general direction of my younger sister.*)

Consumers want access and convenience, and streaming movie/TV services like Netflix have demonstrated this beautifully. Spotify and Apple Music (and uh, Tidal I guess…? Shut up Kanye. Just stop.) have proven consumers want choices as well, but streaming music has done so in the most inefficient way possible.

Malcolm Gladwell pointlessly boiled down horizontal market segmentation by Howard Moskowitz a few years ago. If you’re incredibly stupid and have a short attention span, you should watch his TED talk. If you’re not some shit-slinging simian, you should read below— because that’s what adults do.

Streaming music has over-represented consumer choice.

I’m an avid music listener. You probably are too. Here’s the rub: You’re not even listening to 0.1% of the total artists on Spotify or Apple Music, and neither am I.


The way streaming music presents itself is unlike any other business model. Streaming music assumes we’re all the same in our listening habits and tastes, and that every person should pay the same price. It doesn’t allow wiggle room for a key tenet of capitalism.

You support business choices with your dollars.

Imagine if everyone you knew paid $75 per week in order to shop at the grocery store. It sounds like a pretty great idea, until you realize we all eat different foods, and those foods have different costs to produce. A vegetarian buying black beans and brown rice shouldn’t pay the same weekly price asRon Swanson — filling his cart with filets, bacon and black coffee. (Coffee, also a black bean, but just a little different.)

I don’t eat everything at the grocery store, and some weeks I choose to pick up items from a local market down the street — where I can get fresh okra, green tomatoes to fry, and home-grown squash. My tastes are a little more Southern, and try as Kroger might, they just don’t sell green tomatoes on the regular. I’m Southern, damnit, and I need things that fit my Southern tastes. (This would be a bit like artists who release exclusively on certain platforms. I see why you’re doing it, and I’m willing to go out of my way, but seriously this is inconvenient.)

Two days ago, Kelsey McKinney at Fusion emailed me and asked me for my opinions on streaming music — and I’m not going to scoop her entirely on whatever she’s writing. I’m just going to isolate part of one of her questions, and answer it with a completely different tangent.

Curious? You should be. Keep reading.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38516 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

One thought on “The New Democracy of Music is…Choice. And Lots of It.

  • I remember coming across a line when it comes to todays limitless choice in music…we all want choice, but not THAT much choice


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