15.9.11

the future heart of music

Human beings, as with all mammals, are a finite species; we are inbuilt with defects and obsolesce which cannot and were never intended to last forever. Almost every mammal on the planet is governed by the steady beat of their hearts, at a gentle 28 beats per minute an elephants heart finally gives out after 70 years or just over a billion heartbeats. A billion heartbeats seems to be a standard across the board for the majority of mammals, all apart from one; humans.
We have nearly tripled our capacity racking up nearly 3 billion heartbeats over our 80 years life expectancy. With all this bonus time on our hands the expectation would be that we had learned to relax and live life at a comfortable pace, allowing our hearts an easy ride. But it would seem that our pace is increasing exponentially; everything about modern human existence is built on the speed at which it can be achieved, whether we’re talking bullet trains or smartphones.


I am not wholly against the integration of many services into one, I don’t own a smartphone but I was an early adopter of Google’s plus project because of its integration capabilities and have since incorporated my calendar and email into the service.  Back in May Google also announced the launch of its music project ‘music beta’ to little success, it remains to be seen if eventually adding this as a feature in G+ will add any weight to its uptake. That said, Google will need to act quickly if they want to pull the social rug further from underneath the might and weight of facebook. F8, the facebook development conference, is set to unveil the latest claim staked by the social giant this month in the form of ‘Vibes’ facebook’s first foray into music. Facebook has never really been a service that involved many assimilated facets; rather it focussed on being market leader in its chosen field and for all my griping on the subject, market leaders they are. Google may have the power of integration from its myriad of sister companies; videos through youtube, (although linking youtube to G+ videos is still sadly lacking) photos through picasa, and other similar services for calendars, email and contacts but by sheer weight of number facebook remains ahead.

Bringing music into the fold of facebook harkens back to the days when the networking rivalry raged bitter against the ailing myspace. Music, as well as personalisation, was a defining feature of myspace and it can’t be denied that it gave a new sense of proliferation to many bands across the web. Since this many have attempted at making music ‘social’. The ubiquitous itunes launched Ping last year to little success, mostly due to its lack of compatibility with other services and oddly absent streaming ability. Last.fm has held strong since its launch in 2002, holding a steady 30 million users since 2009. Its integration by means of ‘scobbling’ (adding played song information to your profile from a series of third party players and services) and intuitive design in linking songs / artists you have listened to in order to suggest music you may like has made it famously popular.

This seems to be the aim of facebook’s ‘Vibes’ as it is to be named, its self-proclaimed ‘connective tissue’ will be the integration of popular services such as Rdio, MOG and the exponentially successful Spotify which will feed back users listening information and post it on their facebook profile, friends can then listen to those tracks for free. With each of these named services sporting over 10 million tracks a piece regardless of any additional partners may be waiting in the wings, ‘Vibes’ looks set to give social media a music service to be reckoned with. But let’s hazard some guesses as to what the audio-social landscape will become with facebook at the helm.

Firstly we must deal with facebook’s ability to monopolise – whether through their own volition or not – particular ethereal aspects of modern life. The social network has grown to be a titan in the communications age; it holds dominion over 55% of all social activity on the web as well as 40% of all direct internet use. The average American facebook users spends 10.5 minutes a day on the site, could the incorporation of a music system be a covert attempt to adhere users to the site for longer?
With this fortuitous ability for addiction in mind it would not be a stretch of the imagination to see ‘Vibes’ becoming the be all and end all of profitable music on the net. The music industry is remarkably quick to leap at any chance to revive some revenue from its currently failing system meaning the four big names in music at the moment, Sony, Warner, EMI and Universal will no doubt be looking to legitimately partner their services with facebook. Where this may mean increased revenues for the music industry as a whole its will no doubt put up even larger walls to smaller, new starting bands and those who are innovating outside the boundaries of what is currently popular and profitable. Past that, with companies such as Warner and Universal on board could we see additional forms of media becoming part of the facebook network? With a small but popular game service already under its belt could film distribution such as Lovefilm and Netflix be next on facebook’s roster?  

Last.fm’s user listens show-and-tell interface is acceptable because outside of music the social function is very minimal, the site is used by most as a radio station that plays songs they like rather than a music sharing service. I can sit all day at my computer listening to dozens of songs behind whatever other activities I may be engrossed in, would my friends be thankful for a constant stream of updates, all day long, of these songs. I get the feeling that this will become very tedious very quickly.

There is also a universal issue we need to sit down and talk about. No matter who you are, what your taste and how stringently you define yourself by one genre of music, there is always the “secret shame”. Have you ever hosted a party where your personal mp3 player acts as jukebox? Has a guest ever gone to find a track and seen that buried deep amongst the death metal there is a neat little hollow, dug out especially for Gloria Estefan? One of music’s greatest glories is its ability to catch you off guard no matter how fortified your defences. There are some songs that, like it or not, you just find catchy, but would you really want them broadcast to your nearest and dearest, not to mention the bizarre, random assortment of strangers you call friends on facebook?  
That said there is little in the way of ‘shame’ on facebook from what I’ve read, clicks of the ‘like’ button next to drugs are up by 1131.9% this year!

When all is said and done this is still an experimental step for facebook, fraught with as many potential hazards as there may be glories. Music is still universal and will always be so, beyond the walls of facebook, music will be there waiting for you should you ever need a(n actual) friend.  And when you put the lightning-paced social frenzy behind you it’s best to find something at around 70 beats per minute to give those extra heartbeats something steady to hold on to.  

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