Where is the Irish digital music model headed?

23 Jun 2009

As far as pay-per-download is concerned, services like the iTunes Store, Nokia Music Store and 7Digital have it covered, but the real digital music revolution is taking place in streaming music services.

Today, the extremely popular streaming music service Spotify has launched a CD-quality subscription service in the UK that will allow users to listen to virtually any track they want on an iTunes-like interface for a monthly fee of £9.99 sterling.

This service is free in an ad-supported model for UK listeners, but still unavailable in Ireland, apart from the subscription model.

It is very plausible that Irish users will gladly pay for the premium subscription of €9.99 a month, when a fast-streaming service is essentially as good as having the tracks you want already downloaded to your PC’s music library. However, there is a lot to be said for trialling the free service or trying out a day pass.

Another streaming music service that gained many Irish fans in the early days was music recommendation site Pandora, but since licensing constraints in 2007 restricted this to the US only, we had to find something else.

This something else turned out to be last.fm, now owned by CBS but headquartered in the UK. Up until March of this year, global listeners were able to access personalised music stations based on their favourite genre or artist, with a social-networking element thrown in. However, since the acquisition and revenue streams were re-examined, all but the residents of the US, UK and Germany have been able to avail of this.

This left Irish listeners to pay €3 per month for the same service, which led many countries to switch over to Spotify.com. However, the essential difference with last.fm, according to its founders, is that users can find new music and connect their ‘real’ music life, ie gigs, concerts and people with similar music tastes, to their online listening.

What is driving these three sites – Pandora, Spotify and last.fm – is the move to mobile. Pandora already has an iPhone application since 2008, last.fm has arrived on Android devices as well as the iPhone, and Spotify is looking at creating a mobile application to launch this summer, which will allow users to sync their playlists to their handset.

Unfortunately, neither the Pandora nor the last.fm mobile apps are available here in Ireland and we will have to wait and see for Spotify. However, there is some online music innovation here.

Muzu.tv, a Dublin-based music video site, is becoming the place to watch music videos due to the deals it has struck with the four major music labels, which provide legitimate and high-quality content including music videos, interviews and concert footage exclusives.

On the mobile side, we have Downloadmusic.ie, which gives users direct to mobile music downloads for €1 per track, very possibly a glimpse at the way the download music market is headed, given that our mobile is often our MP3 player.

As we wait for streaming music services to properly come our way, innovation in Ireland is certainly filling in the gaps, but as the smartphone market and broadband speeds gain ground and last.fm readies its arrival on the Xbox Live entertainment portal, surely the music model in Ireland should be going upstream too?

The technology is arriving but, as with movie downloads, Ireland is suffering from a case of regional restriction.