Records, tapes, CDs, MP3s -- now clouds?

Josh Kun

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Kai Ryssdal: One way to date yourself, technologically speaking, is to describe how you listen to music. For me, mostly iTunes. Reasonably up to the moment but there's actually a newer, and some might say hipper way. Josh Kun's all over the digitization of music in his job as the director of the Popular Music Project at the Annenberg School at USC. Josh, it's good to have you back.

Josh Kun: Thank you.

Ryssdal: So this new whiz-bang way to get your music -- make me smart.

Kun: I mean, really what seems to be the future right now of course is that way that music is moving into the so-called "cloud."

Ryssdal: The computer cloud. Tell us what that is.

Kun: The computer cloud, which basically means that data and information is not stored on your hard drive, but is stored in a faraway place up in the sky that your server has access to.

Ryssdal: And then the music that we're talking about right now -- it just comes from it somehow? How does it work?

Kun: The comparison usually is the idea of the celestial jukebox. That instead of buying individual albums or individual songs, you're buying access to a world of music.

Ryssdal: And there are companies now who are setting this up as a business model?

Kun: Multiple. This is where everyone is headed. There have been in the past months and in the past year or so, folks like, Pandora, MOG, LaLa, Napster, Rhapsody, Spotify in Europe. These are all names that are on the tips of people's tongues right now. The big news that everyone is waiting for is whether or not Apple is going to announce that the iTunes store moves from being the iTunes store to iTunes.com.

Ryssdal: And they just blow everybody out of the water?

Kun: Yeah. There's talk of Apple. There's talk of Google with the Android phone as well as Amazon all moving toward a cloud-based music streaming subscription service.

Ryssdal: Alright, let me ask you this though. Don't we sort of have this? You can climb into your car, or go into your living room and push this button on the device... It's called a radio and you just get the music that comes from the ether?

Kun: Absolutely. There is something radio-like about many of these services. The difference between some of the services is whether, let's say Pandora is more akin to radio in that way. You subscribe, in the case of Pandora, for free, and you're getting music that in a way is programmed for you based on your tastes versus something like MOG, where you're paying $5 or $10 a month and you're not getting someone programming for you. You get to choose what albums you want to listen to.

Ryssdal: What if I want it?

Kun: You can go buy it.

Ryssdal: It's a little like books in the library, right? I heard this song, I enjoyed it and I want to have it.

Kun: And what I'm wondering is, is that desire to own it in that way, in a sense, a generational desire? That really is the new kind of the future of media consumers. It's not about owning and possessing but about accessing.

Ryssdal: So you're telling me I'm an old fuddy duddy?

Kun: Um... I would never say that to your face. Never to your face, Kai.

Ryssdal: These companies, Spotify and MOG and eventually iTunes.com once it gets there, are they making any money yet?

Kun: I think what everyone is still waiting to see what's going to happen and how financially successful these ventures can be. Certainly in the past, services have come and gone. Many of them, the more powerful ones, like LaLa for example, was purchased by Apple which is what fueled many of the Apple rumors. I mean Pandora for what it's worth, I think they just announced that Pandora has something like 60 million users, so there's a demand for this. And my guess is there will be a continuing growth in what people want in this area. So people's hopes -- this is an industry hope -- how to save the business of music. So these are the kinds of new models that people are looking for to bridge old school ways of thinking about music, with all the new school ways.

Ryssdal: Josh Kun. He runs the Popular Music Project at the Norman Lear Center at USC Annenberg. Josh, thanks a lot.

Kun: Thanks, Kai.

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