Tool’s ‘Glasnost’ shows tectonic shift in music delivery

music delivery

One of the head stories in technology news this morning is an announcement by rock band Tool that in coordination with the release of a brand-new album, the band’s music catalog will now be available for digital streaming through Apple’s iTunes platform.

As Jon Porter points out at The Verge today, Tool has been one of the last holdouts in an era where music streaming services have been able to license the overwhelming majority of popular music artists on a subscription basis.

However, Porter’s story in some ways buries the lead, (although Porter did report on it over a month ago,) which is that there is a big generational shift underway as Apple gets ready to do away with iTunes entirely.

In reporting June 3, Porter talked about the splitting up of Apple media delivery into three separate music, TV and podcast platforms.

“Few will mourn the passing of the bloated mess that iTunes has become,” Porter wrote at the time, “but it was precisely this catch-all approach that made the software so compelling in the first place. iTunes was the interface to Apple’s Digital Hub strategy, which Steve Jobs unveiled back in 2001. It envisaged the Mac as the hub that sat at the center of everyone’s digital lives, linking together digital cameras, music players, and “handheld organizers.”

Porter’s title “the rise and fall of iTunes” is apt, because iTunes was such an instrumental change in the music industry.

Those who purchased early MP3 devices remember the rise of iTunes, where Apple started to wrap files in formats that did not maintain compatibility with a wide spectrum of devices. This made it so difficult to run a generic MP3 platform that millions of users migrated to just having iTunes song purchases on their smartphones.

Prior to that, digital music itself did battle with compact discs for years. Tool’s intransigence to the iTunes platform recalls the Napster era, where bands like Metallica balked at new delivery models and suggested the artist should have more rights over creative products.

What’s next? Digital jukeboxes that play from your smartphone? Or an entirely new interface where a small wearable delivers streaming media directly into your brain?

The jury’s still out on what the next big advance will be, but as we say goodbye to iTunes, it’s a good time to wonder about where digital entertainment media is headed. One example is Elon Musk’s suggestion that Tesla drivers will stream media in their cars as autonomous vehicle design hits the American road.

All of this has major ramifications for investing, too. For any entertainment sector stocks in your portfolio, keep an eye on this innovation and change so that you can rebalance as necessary.