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10 music-tech trends that will shape the next decade Songs instead of albums Musicians will always find ways to record their music--it's a fundamental drive, like painting for a painter or writing for a writer. But I agree with Guttenberg that fewer musicians will release suites of songs organized around a common theme or sound. As much as I love my long-playing records, they arose out of economics rather than art--they were a convenient way for companies to bundle multiple songs (particularly songs that might not have sold as singles) in an affordable package. With digital files already taking the place of physical recordings, there's almost no economic reason for the album to persist. By 2020, the concept of the album will be an anachronism with a few vocal adherents--like vinyl records are today--but most music will be released and consumed as songs.Streams instead of downloads Where did we get the idea that digital music has to be downloaded? It started with the CD and file-trading networks--content owners wouldn't sell us music in a form that could be consumed on our computers, so we ripped our own and swapped the files through Napster and its brethren. But now, every time a new song or album comes out, or we rediscover an old act, we have to rip or download the recordings, then transfer them to whichever device(s) we want to play them on. There's got to be an easier way!If you had access to every song ever recorded, on any device, from any location with an Internet connection, wouldn't you rather pay for that service than buy a new CD or two every month? People say they want to own music, but when it's just a digital file, what do they want to own--a collection of ones and zeroes sitting on a segment of their hard drive? Why bother?I think the real problem is that today's streaming services don't give you every song ever recorded and don't work on every device, and broadband data access--particularly wireless--is not ubiquitous. Those flaws stem from business problems (licensing, DRM, format incompatibility, and insufficient broadband infrastructure) rather than technology problems. And the business problems are gradually being resolved--look at the introduction of Rhapsody and Spotify for iPhone, and Apple's acquisition of streaming music service (and music locker) Lala. By 2020, most professionally recorded music will be consumed as on-demand streams and people won't pay by the track.In the cloud rather than on hard drives Some songs will never be available on demand--think of tracks from friends or obscure independent acts, or live covers (where licensing can be incredibly complicated, involving multiple performers and songwriters). But as users become accustomed to listening to more professionally recorded music on demand, they'll expect their personal collections to be available in the cloud as well. After all, who wants to spend time backing up a 120GB music collection on an external drive, or choosing particular recordings to eliminate in order to clear space on a cell phone? This is where Apple's Lala acquisition really makes sense--imagine if iTunes served not only as an on-demand music service but also as a locker for songs you'd previously downloaded, ripped, or obtained elsewhere. Suddenly, the 16GB of storage on an entry-level iPhone would seem generous instead of paltry.Fidelity rather than file size Once our music lives in the cloud, we'll no longer have to worry about running out of space on our local drives or devices. Microsoft's SkyDrive already offers 25GB of online storage for free, and I could easily see that increasing one-hundred-fold by 2020. That's right: free terabytes of storage. It'll take a little bit longer, but eventually bandwidth--even wireless bandwidth--will increase to the point where streaming lossless digital files makes sense. Listeners will rediscover what they've been missing--detail in the midrange, and tons of information at the low and high ends of the spectrum--and the era of the MP3 will be looked back (and down) upon as the dark ages of audio quality.Extras become standard Again, with concerns over storage gradually disappearing, what's to prevent artists from packaging their music with artwork, lyric sheets, video outtakes, and even interactive applications? Today's artist-specific iPhone apps will become standard. Casual fans will stream a couple songs for free. Hardcore fans will pay to download the entire app and pore over it obsessively.Production rather than consumption Digital technology has already democratized the recording process--what used to take tens of thousands of dollars and a professional studio can now be accomplished with a laptop and a free program like Garage Band or Audacity. The results usually don't sound as good, but the experimentation process is fun, and sometimes a gem emerges. Digital technology and the Internet have also made promotion and distribution far easier than they were a decade ago. By 2020, music fans will spend almost as much time creating and sharing recordings with their friends as they do listening to professionally recorded music. Don't believe me? Think of this: 10 years ago, writers were a comparatively rare breed. Now, everybody's got a blog, or at least a Facebook page. In another 10 years, everybody will be a musician--or at least a recording artist.Suggestions rather than searches In a world of on-demand music in the cloud, search will become vitally important. Users will want to be able to find songs not only by title, album, or artist, but also by a few snippets of lyrics, or even by humming or playing part of a melody. (Imagine a combination of the voice search function available on Google Mobile with an advanced version of technology like Shazam, which can identify recorded music from a few snippets.) But search is only part of the question--once everything's available, how will users decide what to listen to? By 2020, personalized recommendation services, like those provided by Pandora, Slacker, and MOG, will become even more important than search, and will have to be integrated into any on-demand music service that hopes to survive.Festivals rather than big concerts Live music is already a long-tail world--with the exception of old, established acts and the very occasional pop sensation, very few bands can fill large arenas or football stadiums. This trend will accelerate as the last bands from the golden age of radio retire, labels take even fewer big promotional risks, and the market continues to fragment under the explosion in recording releases. In 2020, no single act will be able to sell 50,000 tickets at Qwest Field like U2 hopes to do this summer. Instead, the only shows that will pack large arenas will be festivals, where listeners can pick and choose among dozens of acts and classes of entertainment--just like they'll be doing online.Spectacle rather than personality With recording revenue plunging, bands must draw fans to their live shows in order to make a living. The common wisdom today dictates that musicians need a personal connection with their fans. They must blog, tweet, maintain their MySpace and Facebook profiles, and generally act like your next door neighbor who's always pestering you to see his band. There's a word for receiving "personal" messages from your favorite 100 bands--it's called "spam." Eventually, this cloud of self-promotional noise will dissipate, and will be replaced by old-fashioned word of mouth. Only acts that put on a great show--not just singing and playing songs, but entertaining in the old-fashioned sense of the word, with video and stagecraft and humor and spectacle--will cut through the noise. Bonus points for the first act that somehow integrates an audience-accessible game console into their act.Retro takes on a new meaning In 2020, the original iPod will be almost 20 years old. As the music world is overtaken by a nearly infinite selection of high-fidelity music, streamed over super-fast wireless connections to increasingly inexpensive portable devices, hardcore nostalgists will drag out their first-generation iPods and fill them with treble-heavy 120kbps MP3s. Meanwhile, grandpa will still be down in the basement with his collection of LP records and his lava lamp.10 other ways Apple could have spent its $100 billion Apple's decision to buy back stock and pay a dividend seems very unApple-like. It was almost predictable in its narrow scope.It was something an accountant might have suggested. Where else might have the company committed its money? Here are ten suggestions that, hopefully, offer a little more imaginative scope to the use of such vast wealth.1. DEDICATE THE MONEY TO OUTER SPACE. Given that NASA has fallen on very hard times, Apple could have offered this money in an attempt to get ahead of Newt Gingrich, who, I understand, is ready to set up a pleasant gray homestead on the moon. 2. BUY FACEBOOK. Oh, I know that some people think Facebook is worth more than that. But a simple buyout would alleviate all the pressure and burdens associated with its IPO while fully educating Facebook on the Apple way. Which, happily, does include a splendidly draconian definition of privacy.3. BUILD 16 BRIDGES. I know that some bridges cost more than others, so I'm taking this estimate from the cost of the new Bay Bridge being built between San Francisco and the East Bay. Apple has lately prided itself on all of the jobs it has created, so there would surely be far more here. And all of them would be in the U.S.4. BUILD A HIGH-SPEED TRAIN NETWORK IN CALIFORNIA. Apple has always been into making things go more quickly. For us in California, it seems that transport can sometimes go rather slowly. How can this vast state have no high-speed rail network when France prides itself on hers? The $100 billion could have covered this nicely. Moreover, Apple's Scott Forstall is said to be a big fan of "American Idol", so this train would help him get to live shows more quickly.This looks like a nice high-speed train from Zefiro.Screenshot: Chris Matyszczyk/CNET5.MOVE SOME PRODUCTION BACK TO THE U.S. Oh, I know this is slightly controversial. Still, we are talking about $100 billion here and the Financial Times tells me that Apple represents 36 percent of the total increase of corporate cash since 2009. Because I'm an idealist and America is, well, struggling a little, you'd think this might have crossed someone's mind. Even if it's someone in Detroit.6. PAY OFF THE PIRATES. I was moved to discover that, according to U.S. Representative Lamar Smith, the U.S loses a huge amount every year because of counterfeiting and piracy. You'll never guess how much. Yes, $100 billion. If Apple paid off the pirates American businesses would all be wealthy again. Allegedly. 7. SOLVE THE ILLEGAL ALIEN PROBLEM. It's astonishing how, when you search for things to spend $100 billion on, all sorts of worthy causes appear. For here I have found a clip from CNN that offered the interesting figure that illegal aliens cost the U.S. taxpayer $100 billion. It's a magical and revolutionary figure, it seems. So here's another issue that Apple could solve with just one signature on a check.8. CURE AMERICA'S OBESITY PROBLEM. Perhaps you might be seeing a pattern here. However unbelievable it might seem, $100 billion seems to be the most important figure in American society. For here I present evidence that excessively large people are costing the nation, yes, $100 billion. Whom can one blame for a crisis is which 65 percent of Americans are said to be overweight? Why, according to the Wall Street Journal, your fellow workers are to blame. For they are stuffing you with cake. With $100 billion, Apple could stuff them with apples.Does the man on the left deserve a little cut?James Martin/CNET9. RID THE U.S OF COAL POLLUTION. I had, perhaps naively, always thought that health care costs in America were so absurd because a full 30 percent of the money goes into administrative costs. However, just a little delving revealed to me that, again allegedly, coal pollution adds $100 billion to America's health care bill. Here is another fine cause to which Apple might have dedicated its hoard.10. GIVE IT ALL TO APPLE EMPLOYEES. Please imagine if you had spent much of your life working under enormous pressure, rarely seeing your family, being berated by your bosses, often unable to talk about your work with friends, wearing a blue t-shirt with a corporate logo, explaining to the naive over-40s why they can't remove the battery from their laptop or simply cleaning store displays to keep them shiny. Wouldn't you like a cash bonus once in a while? In this case, with one stroke of generosity, Apple would see which of its employees are utterly dedicated to the cause and which are just doing it for the money.