Mobile Music and Urban Space: a synthesis

With the advent of music sold directly to mobile handsets (link courtesy Ringtonia) in the single largest national market for popular music in the world, we may soon start to see drastic change in the way urban space is organized around music consumption and audition.

This sort of thing has been forecast previously (c.1999, with the coincident rise of broadband internet penetration and the widespread adoption of the mp3 file). But the intervening years have demonstrated, loudly, that physical sites for music consumption still play a pivotal role in both the industrial process of music dissemination, and in the lives of music audiences. Bricks-and-mortar retail revenues have only in the past year started to feel serious competition from PC-based digital downloads of music, and in some jurisdictions, physical CD sales still account for the bulk of music sales.

While the live music industry has experienced destabilizing effects in recent years, forcing it to scale back and consolidate its efforts on fewer, bigger name, higher margin acts, independent music has become digitally ghettoized, or deprived of space, in a way. It is as if measuring mainstream legitimacy (once measured by reach into major retail space and onto radio airwaves) in music is now being reconfigured around whether or not music occupies physical space at all.

At the same time, mobile music is invading public space, from obnoxious car stereos on city streets, to tinny music emanating from cel phone speakers on buses, to neighbors next door blaring crappy music at you through the wall (is it just me, or is this latter phenomenon becoming more commonplace?). While officially sanctioned spaces for music audition evaporate, music seems to be pressuring its way into unofficial physical environments where standards of etiquette and public civility are forced into renegotiation.

But despite these disruptions, with some new tweaks in our technological palette, we might imagine creative new ways to use music in physical space, and ways to avoid the social pitfalls of ubiquitous, spaceless music.

Just some things to consider while we contemplate the rumours of the Apple iPhone.

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