Two Weird Ways Technology is Changing Music

Technology has always had an effect on music. The limited capacity of the 78 RPM record got everyone in the habit of writing and recording songs that lasted around three minutes. The 8-track and the cassette allowed music to become more mobile and personalized. The Walkman ushered in the age of humanity going through its day in a bubble of headphone listening. The MP3 completely disrupted the music industry. I could go on, but you get the idea.

This symbiotic relationship continues in ever stranger ways. For example, labels and songwriters know that when it comes to streaming, there’s an excellent chance that when faced with an unfamiliar song, 24% of streamers will skip the song within the first five secondsAnd since no royalties are paid unless the song runs at least 30 seconds, everyone is trying to figure out how to keep hooked for at least half a minute. That’s affecting how songs are written and arranged. More hooks. The chorus up front. Fewer long dramatic buildups and vocals starting sooner. Shorter songs and more repetitive lyrics.

Now labels are waking up to the peculiarities of voice activated devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home. Billboard explains why these AI thingies are affecting music.

Recently, Sony Music Entertainment assembled a six-person squad to crack what is shaping up to be one of the biggest challenges and ­opportunities for the music industry in decades. The task: ­getting voice-activated speakers to play certain tunes when living-room listeners call out anything from the name of their favorite band, to more nebulous requests that Amazon has fielded recently from its Echo users, such as “dog music,” ­”drinking music,” “pop music for yoga” or “Bruce.”

“You’ve got to think about the way people would be requesting things,” a Sony executive says, ­adding that a command to “play Bruce” raises the ­question of whether the speaker will ­produce the more popular Bruce (Springsteen), or ­perhaps Bruce Hornsby, who, Amazon reps say, could ­potentially elbow Springsteen out of the way if he dropped a hot new track. The Sony executive says the musical asks now emanating from Amazon’s estimated 11 million Echo speaker owners include a lot of “curveballs and things none of us could have anticipated.”

Wow, huh? 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.

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