decades of fun

Why Apple Music (or Spotify) Doesn’t Matter Much

There will be no saving the music industry.

There will be no new radio.

Apple, Spotify, and other streamers can brand, re-brand, advertise, sign up artists, make custom playlists, and update their smart-phone apps all they want.

None of it is going to change anything.

The business of streaming music MP3’s for entertainment is not a growth industry.

It’s not profitable for the streamer unless they can get lower royalty/licensing rates from content owners, and that won’t happen.

Streaming audio is also not a preferred advertising platform for major advertisers, leaving tons of unused inventory.

Because of this, the streaming companies can’t afford to give you legal access to the world’s music for $0.30/day and 1 commercial an hour.

If advertisers do fill the inventory, listeners will tune out the service just like commercial radio. Commercial radio can run upwards of 30% of their time on commercials.

But the most important reason streaming will fail to change anything in the current state of music?

Because the sound quality continues to stink.  This is music and sound quality is everything if you want repeat, happy customers.


Let’s go back to 1998. If you can’t go back that far 😉 try 2004.

Streaming music at compressed 192k was standard. Everyone knew it didn’t sound as good as the CD, but it was indeed streaming from the internet, it was new, it was interesting.

With early digital audio, sound quality was far down the list of requirements. We hoped it would improve with more bandwidth and processor speed.

Sound quality was far down the list of requirements.

It’s surprising and sad that over a decade later, even with broadband everywhere, they are still charging people for compressed streams delivered at nearly the same bitrate.

Then of course listeners are playing their music through a device that sounds generally worse than a device from decades ago.

I sometimes call today the 2nd great audio degrade, as opposed to major upgrades of other digital technologies.


Tidal will be interesting to watch, as they try to convince enough streaming fans that music at lossless 1400k is worth more per month than compressed 256k versions. I don’t know if they will succeed but at least they are bringing sound quality into the discussion.

The only other CD-quality mainstream streamer is Deezer, available in the UK only, and it’s getting good reviews.

Until mainstream music consumers have heard 24bit studio masters (2000k+)  played on a proper device they won’t really understand sound quality.

CD is superior to MP3, but it’s still just the start of high resolution music.

Polish the turd all you want, Apple, but your content is still a turd.

When music is recorded it can take over 5Mb/second to store in a stereo PCM file. The optical disc format known as CD required that to be reduced to 1.4Mb second so over an hour fits onto a single disc.

The various lossy formats designed in the 90’s for absolute smallest file size take that 1400k down to under 400k/second.

Apple made all the money they could from selling 10% music files. Now they are streaming them– big deal.

Until you expose the consumer to 100% quality none of it will matter and music will continue to be treated as background sound, ever more annoying as it fights to get out of this 256k box we’ve assigned it.

The Deets
The Deets on PCM audio formats.  For comparison, Netflix HD streams are between 4300k and 6000k bitrate.

[Clarification – AAC is basically MP4, designed by the same people who made MP3. Many say MP4 @ 256k sounds slightly better than MP3 @ 320k. Either way, it’s the same perceptual coding that throws away audio data it feels are not important to the song.]