Not so long ago, walking into a physical music retailer was a vividly human experience. The unmistakable smell of vinyl, the rows of colorful album covers, the hum of distant speakers all combine to create a unique sensory experience.
In addition to this immersive sensory experience, music stores also provide meaningful overall interactions. Record stores and music stores were places where fans gathered, debated, discussed, searched for new tunes and discovered lost songs together. They were places where passionate marketers shared wisdom and guided fans to musical discoveries.
However, as groundbreaking advances in technology such as social media have emerged over the past few decades, the music industry has suffered losses (RIP, MTV News). And with the advent of perhaps the most impactful technology of recent times – digital streaming – physical music retailers and the accompanying music store culture have faded away.
That’s not to say streaming hasn’t been a boon. Technology is hugely important to the industry as a whole, improving global access to music, making it infinitely easier for smaller artists to distribute their songs, and eliminating most music piracy. And while these benefits are significant, it’s important to also be honest about some of streaming’s downsides (in this case, through analogies!) so we can make changes and continue to improve the industry.
Here are three music store analogies to help improve the streaming experience for the benefit of all music fans.
Break the silence in the digital aisles
Today, navigating a streaming platform feels like walking into a music store, albeit with a significant twist—you can’t talk to anyone.
Just as people once browsed the shelves of retailers, now they scroll through endless digital playlists and artist profiles. In the music store scenario, finding your next favorite album or artist often leads to lively conversation and discussion, celebration or debate. However, there is only silence in the virtual paths of streaming services, as there is no way to communicate with each other in each respective app.
It looks like a simple tool, but Spotify, Apple, Tidal, and other streaming services don’t have chat features. The lack of this essential feature dulls the thrill of discovery, prevents users from freely sharing their thoughts about the music in real-time, and generally creates a more isolated experience. In the analog era, a trip to the record store was a social event. It was a place where you could talk to fellow music enthusiasts, share your latest discoveries and maybe even win an argument. Today, those meetings seem like a distant memory.
Simple chat features can revive the sense of community that music stores foster and encourage.
Cross-platform functionality, please
We’ve found that sharing or discussing music with others using the same streaming service can be frustrating. Taking this a step further, trying to share music with people who use a different streaming service sometimes feels impossible.
With several streaming platforms available — Apple, Spotify, Tidal, Amazon, and a host of others — music fans can choose the service they like best based on a variety of factors. However, since each service relies on its own unique programming, even sending links to songs or artists via SMS or iMessage is pointless, as these links create a dead end for people using different streaming platforms. The world of digital music has become a series of walled gardens and the once seamless act of sharing music is hindered by these high digital walls.
The solution? Resorts to sending screenshots (back to the dark ages?) or links to YouTube videos to share songs. This process is the digital equivalent of finding an album in a music store, spotting your friend in another store across the road, and desperately crafting a handmade sign to press against the window, urging your friend to check out that album.
Let’s break down the barriers between music services and enable cross-platform functionality.
Allow listeners to provide feedback to our AI guides
The decline of record store culture isn’t just due to the loss of interaction between friends and fellow enthusiasts. It’s also about how we discover music and the role of AI
In the heyday of vinyl and CDs, passionate in-store salespeople eagerly offered recommendations based on people’s tastes, introducing them to new artists and genres they might never have explored otherwise. These experts provide a vital connection between the music and the listener, enhancing the overall experience.
These days, streaming platforms use algorithms and artificial intelligence to curate playlists and make recommendations. While these algorithms have the advantage of huge libraries at their disposal, the personal touch is clearly lacking. Algorithms often get bogged down in feedback and listeners don’t have the ability to provide detailed feedback, often resulting in poor recommendations.
Empowering users with tools to prompt their discovery algorithms and provide real-time feedback on recommendations and insights into their music taste (beyond just a thumbs up or thumbs down) will create a more fulfilling experience.
In the age of digital music streaming, the sense of community, thrill of discovery and human touch that defined record store culture has faded. While the convenience and accessibility of streaming cannot be denied, we must acknowledge the profound impact it has had on our music experience.
It’s time to rethink how we can reintroduce these elements of connection and discovery into our digital music landscape.