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?
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.