A New Type of Music Shop

January 19, 2008

After reading an article about music piracy I got to imagining what a really fantastic music store would be like.

I imagine a store with lots of low level couches that encourage people to face each other. In the middle of these couch clusters will be a station connected to a central server of music. You’ll be able to come with your own headset or use one of the store’s. Once plugged into the terminal you can set up your own list of music you want to listen to. You’ll be able to listen to this list in any of the stores. If you bring a friend, you can synchronize to the same music. The headsets will have mics, so that you can talk while listening to the music without worrying about disrupting people listening to other music, or necessitating a room.

The store makes money by selling USB sticks, drinks, maybe a tiny cover charge, and music. The music pricing will be based on how often the music is listened to in the stores. They’ll offer high quality non-drm mp3s that you can download to your usb stick. You get to pick the composition and format of the playlist that you buy.

When I was in gradeschool and highschool, I remember being so despondent about the lack of nice places to hang out. There were parties, but I didn’t drink. So a lot of the time in highschool, after I had eaten with my friends, we would just drive up and down El Camino in Mountain View. We had our hack to keep us sane, which was to the go to this LAN party/internet cafe. We’d play games there, but it had set-backs, like no girls and infrequent conversation.

I don’t know if I was the type of person who would have taken advantage of a music-house, like the one I’m imagining. Maybe there were a lot of hangouts that I ignored. But it still feels like there are a lack of enjoyable places that I should have been able to bike or be driven to. And I do think that the availability would have changed the way I socialized.

Maybe a music shop like this will never exist, but I think humanity could pull it off. Starbucks and Apple should team up to do this. Starbucks would manage the stores, and Apple would design them and make the technology for interacting with the music. However, the only way they would get music companies to buy in would be to set up an entirely mocked up store, and then get executives to come there. At this point, the polarization between the music industry and its customers has taken on too many of the blinding characteristics of warfare. The only way to convince people would be to show them.

All this prognosticating got me thinking about a lot of other store structures. For the most part, Starbucks is a hang-out like the one I’m thinking of. But they don’t encourage socialization with strangers, and everyone is listening to the same canned music. But they ARE a hang out. People will sit there for hours, and I see grade/high school kids come and chill for long periods of time.

So in any hang-out there is a medium along which socialization occurs. In a bar, the medium is alcohol. In the internet cafe, it was computer games. In community centers, it’s study areas and air-hockey. Each of them facilitate different atmospheres with less or more socialization, based on the medium adopted by the place. Recently there’s been a proliferation of Hooka lounges. Live music already has a venue, but I think recorded music has a place as a social stratum. And if managed properly, it can be the replacement for the currently waning cd store.

Of course, nothing is ever really destroyed. After all, people still buy and listen to vinyl records. But you have to be really blind and entrenched to believe you’ll never be displaced from the mainstream. It seems that one of the reasons there is so much contention about the use of music is due to a false polarity between people, generated by a myopia around specific issues. When we focus on people enjoying music, and the facilitators of that music getting payed, then there is no issue. The issue dissolves, rather than resolves.

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