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TEP Executive Director Chelsea McCullough Gets Her Groove On at SXSW Music Fest

SXSW: Digital Music Is In “The Cloud”

Musicians from all over the world were in Austin last week for SXSW. Bruce Springsteen and REM were the highlight performers, proving how SX has come a long way from its roots as a local showcase for emerging bands. The reoccurring conversation this year is how fast the music industry is changing, mostly due to technology.

To get some perspective on what this means, consider this… SXSW launched in 1987 with 700 attendees. In that same year, the recordable CD was invented. Today, SXSW draws 32,000 people (infusing $167 million into the Austin economy) and music consumption is now almost all digital.

Even iTunes is quickly becoming a relic now that cloud-based music streaming platforms like Spotify and iTunes Matchare on the market. These services allow users to access their music libraries on cloud-based servers which means instant access to unlimited tracks from anywhere in the world via web or mobile device.

According to GigaOm, there is an undeniable and inevitable shift “from analog media business models to the age of digital consumption.” The impact is substantial not only for consumers, the industry as a whole and is related to the massive bandwidth required to deliver seamless service.

In fact, on 2010 SXSW panel, the founder of Spotify stated that on certain days, “the service uses more bandwidth than the entire country of Sweden.” While that is certainly an impressive number, it is also shocking especially taking into account that this was two years ago and before their U.S. launch.

“Like video streaming, cloud-based music services will gain in popularity. We will want instant, uninterrupted access on all of our digital devices and we will want more and more of it,” said Robert Howden, chairman of TEP. “The challenge is that spectrum – the radio frequency that carries all this wireless traffic – is finite. There’s a very real possibility that we can run out of capacity, creating more dropped calls and spotty connections. This isn’t just a problem for people with the latest generation tablets on the fastest networks. Running out of spectrum is a problem for anyone with wireless service.”

Running out of spectrum – the radio frequency that carries wireless traffic – isn’t just a problem for people with the latest generation tablets on the fastest wireless networks. The spectrum crunch is a problem for anyone with wireless service.” – TEP Chairman Robert Howden

In a recent article, Steve Forbes refers to this as “the spectrum crunch” and forecasts that demand is slated to outpace supply in only two short years. In other words, to enjoy cloud based music services, we need a solution to deliver the required bandwidth. This will require swift action on behalf of the FCC to allow greater access for wireless data providers as consumers demand faster, more robust networks.

SXSW is all about innovation. The buzz at the 2012 festival was all about connecting fans to music. It’s entirely possible that the conversation at SXSW 2013 will be about how to ensure that we have enough bandwidth or spectrum to maintain the digital music experience. That is, if we haven’t depleted our wireless bandwidth by then.

Photo Credit: Brian Birzer, austin360.com

Photo Credit: Spotify founders Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon

Categories Entrepreneurship, Infrastructure, Innovation, Wireless | Tags: | Posted on March 22, 2012