If Taylor Swift Doesn’t Like Free Streaming, Then Turn Her Off

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One of my favourite commentators on the audio streaming industry is Mark Ramsey. He recently produced an interesting podcast that was an almost textbook example of my own angle in these columns: a conspiracy theory that Taylor Swift’s complaint about the royalties payout from Apple’s new SAOD (subscription audio on demand) service might actually have been simply a marketing stunt to benefit both Swift herself and also Apple, who not only received Swift’s tweet but managed to get its CEO to tweet back in 30 seconds. You couldn’t help but wonder if that was staged.

And the logic is pretty sound. Apple’s brand gets a boost, Swift’s brand gets a boost, and—lo and behold—her release is pitching at the top of the Apple Music service recommendations.

Meanwhile, she stands against Spotify and others since their free tier services “cheapen” her product, although YouTube itself carries nearly all of her (fairly dismal) music on multiple authorised channels for free. So this again seems targeted at Apple’s major “iMusic” competitors. Could Swift be on the Apple payroll?

As we can see, “streaming” is becoming part of the general public’s “normal.” Large corporations are hoodwinking the public into almost believing that record labels are somehow charities, and streaming is bad unless Swift says it’s cool. It is a fascinating way to regulate an unregulated market.

It might just be time that technical players in the video delivery space turn the tables and invent some technology we could use to autonomously turn off videos we simply don’t like.

Imagine if the developers of the AAC codec had a backdoor censorship key that could allow them to turn off Swift’s weak, overproduced, soulless electropop simply because we hate her music and don’t want it to “cheapen” the technology.

Or a tech regulation model that could enable us to turn off news we don’t like simply because it uses our software to deliver the picture.

Or a red button we could press that would ban using internet video as a means to promote diabetes-inducing chocolates and sweets—something we are fanatically opposed to, of course.

How about a blackout we can activate when the politicians we dislike use it to deliver their self-serving vitriol on our webcast platform?

And maybe a tool that introduces breakups and artifacting on a live stream when a sports team we don’t like starts to win.

The streaming industry faces increasing regulation and interference from many directions about what services and technologies we can implement, where, and for whom, that to make a living ourselves we must tread carefully when our technology is used to promote ideology in which we have little or no say.

The regulators love it, not the least because they don’t really understand it, which means that their regulations constantly need to go back for revision, which keeps them all in business!

So it would make sense for us as a technical community to agree to a blackout on distributing media that we don’t like and we think discredits our technology, or “cheapens” it, as Swift would say.

This seems an entirely fair argument in the same spirit as the argument that Swift presented (shortly before all the world’s photographers pointed out she was draconian in her photography contracts and essentially demanded free rein to her photos from them—worse than what Apple was “enforcing” on her). Why should she get to use all that lovely technology—vocoders, encoders, servers, etc. (often for free as far as paying a royalty to the technology’s inventors) to make her listenable and to reach her fans, when we who make the technology prefer niche rock, dubstep, and drum and bass? She just cheapens everything I have worked for to deliver this incredible technology!

We press exactly the right buttons to make the shrieking teenager sound like a trained opera singer and we ensure that we put ourselves in high-stress situations on their behalf. We’re treated like invisible minions if the transmission is a success for them, and we are at-hand punching bags if the production is received badly.

Quite often the “talent” is so screamingly bad that the urge to just pull the plug and never let it reach an audience is irresistible.

But we don’t. We raise an eyebrow. Glance at a colleague. Vent our frustration into the ClearCom to our peers, and let the show go on cheapening the technology.

This article appears in the Autumn 2015 issue of Streaming Media Magazine European Edition as “Who’s Really in Control?”

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