What Comes After SoundCloud? Music Streaming in 2016

Tech experts Peter Kirn and Mat Dryhurst weigh in on web decentralization and the past—and future—of music streaming.

Controversy around music streaming and the haphazard distribution of royalties certainly didn’t start in 2015, but it’s heated up over the past year. As the almighty SoundCloud—one of the world’s most popular embeddable platforms—began to crack under the strain of corporate pressure, the need for alternative means of archiving and circulating music became critical. After being repeatedly served with takedown notices or issued “strikes” for copyright violations, some nodes in the electronic music underground, like NTS and Berlin Community Radio, defected to comparable hosts like Mixcloud. Others, however, are exploring entirely new paradigms for decentralizing music streaming and seizing control over their own work. One example of this is producer TCF’s (AKA Lars Holdhus) Futures Along the Blockchain project, which explores the possible applications of the blockchain—the technology behind the crypto-currency Bitcoin—in peer-to-peer music-sharing networks.

As debates flame on around what rights artists and labels have to their output once it’s released into the world, which platforms will fill the vacuum created by SoundCloud’s fall from favor? We brought this question to two multimedia artists and on-the-pulse technologists: Peter Kirn, the editor of Create Digital Music and the founder of the MusicMaker’s Hacklab at CTM Festival, and Mat Dryhurst, a PAN label affiliate and Holly Herndon collaborator. As Kirn sees it, the decentralization of the web on a wide scale isn’t going to happen, but it’s time for artists to seek out new, more specialized tools. Dryhurst takes this a step further by suggesting that not only do artists need specialized tools, they could actually build those tools themselves. Dryhurst is the creator of Saga, a software designed to let artists control how their work is consumed. His explanation of why self-hosting is necessary reads something like a call to arms. “We hold the power and create the value,” he has written, “so perhaps we ought to start dictating the terms.”

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