Platforms, Subscriptions, Models

Mobile music has come along way in the last 5 years, and it is only fair to say that a great deal of the change has been facilitated by Apple and their iOS operating system and iTunes. Without a doubt the global ecosystem that they’ve created has enabled the immense simplicity that users now enjoy.
I can still remember when you had to manually install applications on portable devices. It was complex. It was time consuming. The more expensive applications always had lengthy registration processes and codes to deal with, and if you accidentally deleted an application from a device you had to go through the process all over again. Not so now.

The app store simplifies so much of the buying and installation process that you hardly ever even think about it. That is of course how it should be. But there is another side to the elegance of the app store platform solution. It has people locked in.

I find it interesting to see the different direction that the business of music consumption has migrated from a model of ownership to something more akin to rental with services like Spotify and a number of others. However, we don’t see anything like that appearing for music creation. Why is that, what would it look like, and most importantly, what would it mean?

Would it be possible to rent applications in a music creation platform, or down to a more granular level of renting functionality. There are all sorts of possibilities when you start to think about the idea of transposing concepts employed in subscription music services to music creation.

In March of 2012 I went to a conference about mobile music run by the app side. Someone from Spotify was there and one thing they said was that Spotify’s aim was to be the OS of music. This was a bold statement, and an interesting idea as well. It made me think, and in fact it kept me thinking, not just about what the person from Spotify had said, in fact not at all about Spotify’s claim, but about what the OS of music would be.

A long time ago I read a lot about a replacement for the Palm OS called Capers. The intention was to use Capers instead of the Palm device’s own operating system. Capers was to be a mobile OS for music. Sadly, it never came to anything. However, the claim from Spotify made we go over my own thinking about this again. I think that Spotify’s statement was more about marketing than actually being an operating system for music. But, it makes me think about what an operating system for music creation would be and what it would mean.

Ten years ago this might have been something like a conventional operating system, but now it might be something very different indeed. It makes me wonder what part should an operating system play in music creation? To what degree is the software just a plug in to the creative process rather than central to it? To answer these questions you need to think carefully about what an operating system is and what it gives you. My view is that essentially the operating system is just a base for functionality. Something to build on top of. A platform (for want of a better word) for applications that do the things to actually want.

I realise that in many ways this is somewhat obvious, but stay with me. Does this make sense in the context of musical creativity or any other type of creativity for that matter? When you want to make music with a real world instrument you don’t need this intermediary layer in the same way as you do with a computer operating systems, there isn’t anything in the real world that allows the instrument to work in the same was an OS.

So, in computing terms the operating system makes sense but in a creative sense it doesn’t. Although in practical terms it really is an absolute necessity. Now, don’t worry that I’m advocating a move away from using operating systems be they mobile or otherwise. I’m not. I’m just pointing out the limitations that are superimposed on the creative process by the structure of the technology itself. But when you start to realise these things it makes you wonder how it is that an operating system for a mobile phone enables so much creativity.

In an ideal world I’d love to see a wholly music orientated operating system. In fact I’d probably argue that it shouldn’t even be referred to as an operating system but as a creative system. I’m sure someone else could come up with a better title though. But we are in the real world an that means dealing the operating systems we have and with the limitations and models that are forced on us by them.

I think that the next few years will see increased experimentation in models and platforms. This could be a good thing. Or at least in models. I expect that at least in the short term iOS will remain the dominant mobile OS for music creation, which in a sense is a shame, not just because it means that there are fewer choices around devices, but also because I think there will be less impetus for Apple to move the OS further in the direction of music creation. I could be wrong though.

But I think that the most interesting idea is that of a subscription based mobile music platform (or OS for that matter), something that does for musical creation what Spotify has done for listening. Now that would be worth investigating.

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