After looking over the news stories for the past year, I thought it would be appropriate to make some yearly predictions as to where things are going with music and technology and how that will impact composers.
Lessons From the Writers’ Strike
Both Hewlett-Packard and Wal-Mart dropped out of the video download market, citing it as unprofitable. But that’s not stopping the major networks, and beta site Hulu, from experimenting with the profitable viability of downloading content. Hulu, in case you haven’t heard about it, is a joint venture of NBC Universal and News Corp., scheduled to launch in October 2008. Hulu provides programming from both NBC and FOX, seven different cable channels and selected movies. With its theme of, “anytime, anywhere,” the goal is to make programming available globally. Right now viewing is restricted to the U.S., but clearance work is ongoing to make programming available in every country in the world.
But Hulu isn’t alone. With ABC, CBS, and NBC, you can go to their websites and watch programming anytime. Right now, many of these programs are advertiser supported. And Apple is being challenged by Amazon in the download war, too.
According to a December 20, 2007 story on Reuters.com, the Harris Interactive poll found that 65% of all poll respondents had watched at least one video on YouTube, 43% watched programming on a network site, and 35% on a news site.
One concept must be agreed upon by all sources: the difference between a download and watching streaming content. iTunes sells downloads. So, the creative artist must determine how much of the download they’re getting, whether it’s a video or an MP3 music file. Then, who collects the money?
One thing about computers, it can add really well 1+1+1+1+ to derive the actual number of paid downloads that took place. No revenue sharing or “sweeps” needed here, because the computer keeps the exact number and can report it monthly. As a result, there’s no reason royalties can’t be paid out monthly starting 45 days after the close of the month.
But that part’s easy. What’s tough is when you factor in global viewing with streaming content. But again, the computer can create a login count. It knows how many streaming feeds can commence at once. And since web viewing is global viewing, the concept of market weighting to determine the worth is now outmoded. There will now be network, regional, local and web viewing and listening.
Some of this won’t be so easy to track, especially with streaming off of smaller specialty sites.
What’s unclear from any source, is how actors, writers, and composers will be compensated.
But there is one other surety. Composers and songwriters can choose to begin producing their own individual works, their own programming, and broadcast it on the web. They’ll have the same promotional issues the networks do, but if the programming’s quality is good, even with smaller viewing audiences, there’s no reason composers can’t be grabbing a bigger share of the pie.
It will also change the concept of film scoring. Instead of having a few thousand composers to compete with, now there will be a few million.
While there are cheaper and cheaper PCs on the market (Dell in Guitar Center, HP in Best Buy, etc.) a true digital audio computer will remain in the same price category and slightly higher because of the impact of XP64 and ultimately Vista. With many consumer motherboards able to handle 8GB of RAM (memory) and shortly 16GB, the opportunity to load an entire orchestral template is here as shown by tests by Vienna and other professionals with similar machines. As we transition more into 64bit by mid-2008, the opportunity to have fewer computers in the studio doing more will have arrived.
The transition won’t be completely easy. Logic 8 users still have to contend with Logic only accessing 2GB of RAM while some virtual instruments will access 4GB, and others, using Soundflower, will access more. My guess is that in the end, the PC will be the 64bit-ers love machine because it will be easier to configure and RAM will be cheaper than on the Mac (which, according to one authorized Mac store, is the same RAM as the PC, but double the price). This means (for many in film production) sequencing on the Mac and using farm machines to handle EastWest and Vienna.
Both EastWest and Vienna will have their own “V-Stack” programs, so if you want to run programs from both companies simultaneously, you’ll need separate machines for both companies.
As a result, this will be continued good news for audio card manufacturers and makers of mixing boards, that is, until FX Max gets its act together with connecting software for both Mac and PC. MIDIoverLAN, created by Music Works, can do this with MIDI, but not audio.
With this approach, system integration nightmares should subside, but not for amateur users who opt to run virtual instruments from multiple companies on the same machine. For these folks, don’t even think about having your best bud or the kid down the street who’s good with video games build you a system, because you’re not going to get the performance out of it.
Simply put, 2008 is the year of the Specs, not the year of the Rat (as suggested by the Chinese zodiac).
The trend is moving to inexpensive downloadable products that bypass retail distribution. For example, SONiVOX, Vienna, and ILIO all have such value-priced opportunities.
Products will stay priced in the low to mid ‘00s.
There will be at least two more string libraries. EastWest announced their development of a string library that may not be released until 2009, but there’s always hope. We also hear through the grapevine that GOS II, now retitled GPO advanced, will be out around NAMM time, maybe.
However, we will also see another turn of events and that’s with physical modeling. Programs from Virsyn, Synful and WIVI are getting better and better. And the value of these programs is that not only do they sound great, they’re not memory intensive. So you’re paying more, but only using one computer. Significant production on a laptop with 2GB of RAM? Getting there.
However, there is a downside to all this.
Unfortunately, I don’t think the number of people using MIDI sequencing programs is growing at a fast rate. That’s important because sample developer sales follow sequencing program sales. This is why it will be important for developers to focus on providing instruction for showing how their virtual instruments can be used within Sibelius, Overture 4, and other notation programs accepting VSTi’s. One exception to this will be Finale. They have a contract giving Native Instruments an exclusive for several years, at least that’s what the salesperson on the Finale sales line told me. Academia, the next great sales move, is effectively shut out of other companies’ virtual instruments, but not Sibelius, and not Overture 4, both of which are dual platform. And of the two, only Overture 4 is really sequencing friendly.
If they could just get their marketing act together enough to provide MIDI import and export, the sleeper program that could dominate notation/sequencing sales is Notion. Notion is easy to use, and is seamless with its implementation of samples and notation. By not completely implementing MIDI import and export, they’re shooting themselves in the foot and delaying their own entrance into both the consumer and academic marketplace. Someone needs to do the Notion corporate leadership a real favor by sending them historian Barbara Tuchman’s critically acclaimed, The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam. (NOTE TO READERS: I’m only old enough to remember the second war, not the first.)
In the absence of this, developers will have to either rely on sequencing software companies to reach out to the broad market, or develop their own. The concept everyone understood was Synclavier. That’s really what the marketplace is asking for. But until that happens (don’t hold your breath – there’s more hubris in a sequencing software firm than in the White House), then individual developers will either have to develop their own sequencing platform to bundle with their libraries, or watch their net profits slide in the face of having to sell at lower prices.
With all the music schools in the world, you would think that education would be the bastion of MIDI, sequencing and recording instruction. Not so. Making sales calls to professors all across the States gives you lots of insights, especially when department heads tell you bluntly that they’re not going to implement many changes with MIDI-aided instruction because being tenured, they’re close to retirement and they’re willing to let the next teaching generation handle it – after they retire. Despite the hoopla from various circles, don’t look for any significant educational movement for at least another five years, or longer.
CD sales will continue to perform well but will also continue to drop because as the post-war baby boomers age, their predilection to buying music wanes as they pay for their children’s college education, medical insurance, retirement savings and more. The rising cost of medical insurance and the need to finance medical issues will put a greater squeeze on the economy than gasoline. How do I know this? When you examine the reader age stats of the various MIDI print publications, their average age is 45. Hello AARP.
But what will happen to music listening with the post-war baby boomers?
It will go to the Internet with streaming audio with no commercial interruptions. Just look at the options available with iTunes and Windows media player. One of the great delights is listening to Otto’s Baroque or several dozen other streaming sites. There’s simulcast radio, streaming music channels through many cable TV services, and subscriptions from the Naxos Music Library with close to 100,000 CDs online. And with iPhone, you’re no longer stuck in front of a computer to listen.
One thing’s for certain. I’m guaranteed another year’s worth of columns!