Forecast for Music in the Cloud

The just-announced Google Music Beta offers a cloud-based storage locker for your music, theoretically letting you play your files from anywhere or on any compatible device. The initial reports seem to indicate that it doesn’t work very well, but it’s sure to improve. Amazon already offers something similar in its Cloud Drive product, and Apple, it is rumored, will join in at some unspecified point this year with an offering of their own.

There’s an inevitability to storing music on the cloud, but what I’d like to see is something a little more ambitious. It’s great to eliminate the need for local storage of music files, but why simply move those files to a server somewhere? If music can be served with near ubiquity, why not serve more than just the music?

Music, Plus

A digital album stored on the cloud is an opportunity to re-imagine music packaging. I’m not talking about a replication of the presentational fanciness that used to be a part of the music buying experience, but rather a major enhancement of music consumption.

Being able to listen to an album from anywhere or any player is great, but it would be even better if I could access that same album on an Internet-connected television and watch the songs as a series of music videos. Or, in a browser, that digital album could give me access to the multimedia equivalent of liner notes: lyrics, video interviews with the artists, e-book style essays and more. Even better, each album could act as a hub for social activity around that particular release: how many Radiohead fans would enjoy an ongoing live forum, of sorts, centered around the music itself?

So much happens around the music that we enjoy, but why go elsewhere to conduct the kind of social interchange — tweets, blog posts, updates, amateur covers, video riffing — that an album inspires when you could just use the album itself as a gateway? To me that is the real potential of moving away from music files and towards music as a service. I realize that first we have to get the record companies to consent to allowing us to get our music files off our hard drive, but I hope it doesn’t take too long to get from ‘music in the cloud’ to a true cloud music experience.



  1. Would definitely be cool. Some of this is already happening with SoundCloud, at least the social aspect of people leaving comments at certain points in the album. A good example being the new Beastie Boys album at

    I have a hard time imagining every album being accessible across the same devices and hooked into the same social functions or extra material; the different record labels will undoubtedly handle things different from each other. But given time, I think this is where it’s headed.

  2. Hi Khoi, nice post. Love the packaging ideas.

    Big brand cloud based music services seem to be cropping up every other minute. However, as you noted, not all of them have nailed a good User Experience.

    It seems there is an emerging expectation to have a widely accessible library of music. Possibly owned and streamed. Available on desktop and handheld devices. With new music recommendations baked in to the journey. I think whomever can crack the perfect music lover experience is going to be the go to brand for accessing music.

    Who do you think it will be?

    More of my musings on here: link

  3. I just really doubt your suggestion would work. The reason Dropbox is so popular is that it’s synched not only on your computer but online too —аaccessible from anywhere, any time. For something cloud-based to be popular I think it needs to be stored locally too otherwise what happens if the internet is down for any more than a day? Music is an essential part of every day life now.

  4. As a professional musician (bass player for Gang of Four) who believes strongly in the idea of the “end of the container” with regard to recorded music, and as someone who has struggled to bring a great user experience to online music (working with eMusic, Intel) I find it rather ridiculous that here we are, in 2011, without a really viable online music service.

    Yes we have the ability to buy MP3 files via iTunes and the Amazon MP3 store, we can subscribe to stream music via the myriad, follow-the-leader models of Pandora, Rhapsody, Rdio, MOG, Spotify (Europe only,) etc etc, and now we have cloud services from Google and Amazon that, as you point out, are less than stellar.

    At my talk at the SanFran MusicTech conference last week, for the first time I found myself calling out the online music service programmers and technologists in the audience for not delivering us something new and substantial, despite all of the years, all of the wasted investment dollars and all of the fine minds given over to the task.

    I teach a class each week at the University of Oregon Eugene on Digital Strategy and have begun to task my students with applying critical thinking to how we might disrupt the online music industry by asking a question like – How can we disrupt the competitive landscape of the Internet music industry by delivering an unexpected solution?

    I posted some thoughts with titles that might rattle cages, such as Why Does Pandora Exist? or Someone Should Offer a $600 a Year Online Music Subscription Service. The point being to try and create some disruptive thinking and move the needle towards game-changing, value-added services such as the one you suggest Khoi, instead of the moribund ideas that get knocked around as the “future of music.”

Thank you! Your remarks have been sent to Khoi.