Apple announced, to much fanfare, the iCloud last week. A dynamic way of controlling files across all your devices, all stored on a central server.
I’m worried. Apple has really let their music business fall away in recent years. iTunes LP. Ping. They’ve been living on the success of 2005, and have done very little to expand their audience. iCloud was supposed to be their new way of revolutionising the music experience.
In short, everything you buy on iTunes can be re-downloaded to any device free of charge. You can also use your own music, uploaded to the “cloud”, and treated like purchased music, at a cost.
One of the things the music industry sometimes forgets is not everyone wants to own music. The CD era seems like an anomaly these days, because people had to buy music that fell out of a conservative radio format. So iCloud could be good for them.
But what about the music fan?
I have my questions. About how it will work. How it will cost. And what it will mean to give up control.
1) What about deleted music?
This is the first one that came to mind for me.
Music catalogue move around every day. Things fall out of print for many reasons. Does this effect my collection, if I don’t own it?
Take Paul McCartney for example. His solo material just changed hands again. I’ve uploaded my “McCartney” album from 1970. It hits a match on iTunes, and now the newly remastered version is what I own.
What if McCartney moves again, and the album is unavailable. As a previous buyer, can I download it anyway?
The problem is, iTunes owns the tracks. Not me. That is whole reasoning behind their deal with the majors. So if they lose the rights to something, will I?
2) What about pirated music?
Music leaks. And leaked music can get played on iPods. Can Apple restrict this?
Say Arcade Fire’s next album leaks. Two weeks before release, I upload it to Apple. Can Arcade Fire’s label work with Apple to block those tracks? It is illegal for me to have them. And for Apple to have them. Will the enforce this?
And if they do, what if people have a valid reason for uploading? Could be members of Arcade Fire themselves. How can Apple tell?
3) Demos, bootlegs etc?
If Apple go down the path of restricting what you can listen to from their servers, then there are a whole can of worms here. Artists canning liver bootlegs of performances they don’t like, for example.
For the record, I don’t think Apple will go down this path. But they don’t own the music, and record companies could insist on it.
4) Can they hunt pirates down?
Especially in America, they are not afraid to sue consumers for piracy. With Apple’s new insight into your music library, can they spot a pirate if they see one? Can the RIAA compel Apple to hand over that data?
5) Will they use other uploaded versions?
Let’s look at a band that is not on iTunes. Say AC/DC. If I upload my AC/DC tracks, will it match with someone else whose uploaded it, saving me trouble? Or will they keep hundreds of thousands of Hell’s Bells on their servers?
Multiples go against what the cloud is about. And for a real music fan, I’m sure lots of your music is not available on iTunes. It would still take weeks for me to upload stuff. For something like AC/DC that a lot of people have, matching is the preferred option.
But they might have to. What happens if I have a version that is badly ripped and skipped, and that replaces all other versions?
6) Will my metadata be locked?
Anyone who has worked with iTunes knows they have a team of people who “fix” metadata to suit their own needs. I’ve had entire albums unreleased because iTunes didn’t like the metadata.
For the record, iTunes, you don’t call Abbey Road “Abbey Road – LP”. So similarly, you shouldn’t add “EP” to the end of every EP. Or “single” on the end of some singles.
If I upload something from an EP, am I stuck with Apple’s naming conventions every time? Will it now by iTunes way or the highway?
Also, what albums will things be tied to? Will “Something” be on Abbey Road or a compilation? Who’s to say?
I also make my own stuff up all the time. Various single tracks on my collection, I make a one track single with the 7” artwork. Will Apple wipe this?
7) What happens to international versions?
Will America trump again? I have an awful feeling if I upload Ash’s Nu-Clear Sounds album into iCloud, I will get the US album cover.
Or what if I want the US cover?
What happens to the Raconteurs/Saboteurs? Will the Saboteurs suddenly not exist?
8 ) Will it destroy bandwidth?
Sure, we will save storage space. But we are expecting to download a lot of stuff?
Music fans have lots of music. Moving the music around used to be free, with the use of a cable. If I had no cable, then I am using up my bandwidth on music I own and have.
And is it so revolutionary? I was always able to re-download apps that I bought with the same log in. Emusic also allowed for re-downloading.
I guess this question is, how much does cloud re-availability actually mean to people?
9) Is there a limit?
So far, the biggest number Apple has mentioned is 20,000. Is there a limit? I have 50,000 tracks (a lot of crap, sure). I can easily up that immediately. And thousands more a year.
Will Apple limit the space?
And why would I not let someone else log into my iTunes and use my collection to “match” as theirs? I should just spend a few weeks matching friends collections to my Apple ID. I’d break 100K in no time.
Which brings me to another problem. Why not use Spotify? That’s millions of tracks, that you can stream from lots of devices.
10) Finally, what if I leave?
Living in various countries, I’ve had a couple of Apple IDs. This has caused me lost of problems, and I’ve had to re-buy stuff.
So what if I leave Apple? Will I lose everything? I bought it, outright! I am only really subscribing to Apple’s music service, not buying it. Or am I?
It’s the final worrying point. If a spend years cultivating my collection with iTunes, will I lose it all when I leave?
There are a lot more questions. Sound quality? Wave files? Who gets the money? Is this financially viable?
It seems the iCloud is great for the mainstream. But less so for the music fan. And for us, we are waiting to see how it all works out in the wild. There are kinks, but maybe they can work out. Hopefully Apple can keep the repertoire owners at bay.