I remember working in the interactive television world in the mid to late 1990s, and the big push back then was convergence. The idea was that computers would begin to displace televisions and other devices, and that people would begin to use personal computers in more shapes and sizes than ever before. By the time I left Microsoft to join the heady rush toward Internet startups, the message became tired: no one wanted to trade in their TV, and no one felt like “mousing” around on their television screens to click on things to buy. Moreover, the content industry behind television was adamantly avoiding any kind of screen overlay or feature that distracted viewers from the screen. After all, the commercial content industry in television is all about selling advertising at the end of the day.
It is now safe to say that the convergence is finally happening. But so much more has happened since those early days. In the video world, we now have Tivo and countless other personal video recorders. In fact, many of these devices are shipped to consumers via their cable operators. The content owners were aghast that viewers could skip the commercials that ultimately pay them. And toward the end of the 2000s, of course, Internet video is light years ahead of where RealNetworks’ RealVideo began. Now, the iPod nano even records video that people can upload, edit, share, and exploit. People can watch video on their cell phones, computers, XBoxes, Playstations, portable DVD players, and even the old venerable television set. Televisions have changed, too, though notably the personal computer hasn’t displaced it just yet.
So what about music technology? The past decade has exploded with new, interesting music technology, and people have completely changed the way they consume music. At the beginning of the decade, compact discs were still the media king, and now Apple’s iTunes Music Store is the #1 music retailer. Also at the beginning of the decade, Napster began to shape how people consume music, engendering the idea that music should simply be free (technically, Napster began service in June 1999). Now we have the iPod, iPhone, Zune, SoundCloud, Rhapsody, Pandora, Last.fm, Spotify, RockBand, Guitar Hero, DJ Hero, and multitudes of others.
Music production radically changed, too. The personal computer has become powerful enough to play back scores of tracks at the same time, to implement synthesizers, samplers, effects processors, and more on a laptop with a single disk and a few pieces of software. Ableton Live simplified the notion of playing studio tracks live to an audience, giving way to the “laptop performance.” And Serato Final Scratch and other technology enables DJs to bridge the gap between the old vinyl world and today’s digital libraries.
On a personal level, I reached some of my own goals over the past decade. My debut album was released in 2003 on a reputable independent music label, and a second sophomore album followed a few years later. In between, there were compilation appearances here and there and another EP release. Professionally, I spent over half the decade in startup companies, and in one of the two I supported entrepreneurs in residence at a venture capital firm. We went on to ship our software to millions of people starting with nothing but an idea, and that company eventually sold to Cisco in 2008. I also realigned my professional and personal interests by returning to Microsoft to work on data-powered media experiences, like video recommendations at MSN Video and social music experiences at Zune.
So instead of postulate what the next decade may bring, instead I am content to live in today. Never before have we seen such a rich plethora of media technology ripe for the picking, whether we are music producers, consumers, or both. Whatever is in store for the next decade, I’m ready. But, let me take a moment to enjoy what we all have worked to produce in the 2000s. I’m switching on the studio as we speak.Posted: December 30th, 2009 | No Comments »