If the Internet Is Global, Why Is Music Still So Regional?

Sure, great music transcends borders.

But music apps, for the most part, do not.  It’s a strange state of affairs: the web is global in theory, yet in the ‘legit’ digital music world, it’s all about country-by-country restrictions and licensing hangups.  Pandora is famously absent from the UK, one of the most important music markets in the world.  Spotify took years to cross into the US, and just recently launched in Australia (after starting in 2008).  YouTube regularly restricts videos if you’re in the wrong country.  Turntable.fm is US-only.

But why do users play along?  After all, if there’s any rule-of-thumb in the digital era, it’s that artificial restrictions and impositions routinely get dismantled or circumvented.  High-priced tracks are available for free, songs unavailable on Spotify are available on YouTube, unreleased materials get leaked.

Yet, for some reason, users jumped up-and-down when Spotify came to the States; it was almost like it didn’t exist to Americans despite near-ubiquity in Europe.  Which suggests that users – on the whole – are happy to circumvent and bypass if it’s incredibly easy, but loathe to jump through any hoops.  Which would explain the hyper-success of platforms like Napster, and the erosion of download piracy towards free streaming.   And in the case of Spotify, this is a company that is actively enforcing restrictions, prohibiting foreign credit cards, and generally making it difficult to cheat.

Which raises the question: is all of this inviting a crafty, simple-stupid workaround from the piracy interwebs?  Like Proxmate, a Googe Chrome extension and Firefox add-on that alters your IP address to allow foreign access?  Actually, Proxmate has been around for months, but its awareness and adoption still quite modest.  And, still a bit limited and buggy: unblocking YouTube, Hulu, and Grooveshark are priorities, with Pandora, Netflix, and Turntable off the list (for now) and complaints about Hulu effectiveness.

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Then again, Proxmate is using IP-scrambling technology that’s been around for years, but can be annoying to use.  And, often ineffective for the non-expert user.  Not to mention completely ineffective when it comes to premium accounts (based on local credit cards), and inadvertently problematic for other web-based experiences.

Which means that when it comes to the internet, the world isn’t flat, it isn’t a ‘global village’, and local restrictions will remain – at least for above board, licensed platforms.

Written while listening to Alex Clare. 

8 Responses

  1. Zoso

    consent is the cornerstone of freedom. artists and rights holders should have the ability to negotiate fair deals in each territory. if music is unavailble in a given country, and enough people want it, that should lend itself to fair licensing fees.

    that said, I think we’re closing the gap for digital distribution. most people I know are distributing for the world in every territory where a digital distributor is active, such as itunes, amazon, etc.

    I think the conversation is a non-issue within a decade.

  2. wallow-T

    To answer the question in the title of the article, “If the Internet is global, why is music so regionally restricted?” I offer the quote attributed to Upton Sinclair:

    “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

    On the woo-woo scary Proxmate add-on:

    “Proxmate is using IP-scrambling technology that’s been around for years…”

    Dude, it’s a proxy server. This is incredibly basic networking stuff. Kids can set them up.

    (And, as a free proxy server, Proxmate is probably slammed into uselessness once word about it spreads.)

    You want to see people evading geographical restrictions? Have a look at what gets marketed to sports fans. There is no crazed music lust which compares to the motivation of a loyal expat sports fan who has been geo-blocked from watching a critical match.

  3. @rapcoalition

    Why Is Music Still So Regional?

    (because artists make regional music?)

  4. Mr Mister

    A person has a few options if they wish to use the aformentioned sites;

    A DNS redirector. (Usually about $5 a month http://www.unblock-us.com also the fastest option)

    A US VPN. (as low as $3 a month http://www.ibvpn.com somewhat slower than DNS redirection)

    A proxy service like Hotspot (free but not 100% reliable)

    If youre really interested in enjoying “global” apps/sites, a little research goes a long way!


  5. Superanos

    Yesterday Spotify removed their requirement to have a Facebook account… in Germany only. So users can now sign up for a Spotify account without a Facebook connection, but they need to be in Germany or use a German proxy to do so. This is just weird and makes no sense.

    If you use a German proxy, you’re going to have to give them their credit card number to verify your country and change it to the correct one.