The paradise of infinite music

The paradise of infinite music

Summary: Make that "Ever-receding paradise. . . ."“The Paradise of Infinite Storage” was the title of a panel at the “Pop [Music] and Policy” conference at McGill University in Montreal.


Make that "Ever-receding paradise. . . ." “The Paradise of Infinite Storage” was the title of a panel at the “Pop [Music] and Policy” conference at McGill University in Montreal. Great title, so I downloaded it. . . .

Princeton Professor Ed Felten was on the panel and wrote about it in his blog. The premise:

The panel’s title referred to an interesting fact: sometime in the next decade, we’ll see a $100 device that fits in your pocket and holds all of the music ever recorded by humanity.

Airy storage predictions make me reach for my calculator. And I'm calling it: baloney!

Infinity is bigger than you think, padawan How much music has been recorded by humanity? No one knows for sure, but here's an approximation: a lot!

The iTunes music store reports they have over 6,000,000 songs, not including the Beatles. But let's start there.

Coming in 2017 - the 24 terabyte iPod! The largest current iPod is 160 gigabytes. According to Apple's bonded and insured marketing it will hold "up to" 40,000 songs, presumably at Apple's anemic 128 KB AAC encoding, or 4 MB per song. That equals 24,000,000,000,000 - 24 TB - of storage, today.

Coincidentally, a couple of weeks ago I predicted a 10 TB 2.5" disk in 2017, based on technology currently in the lab. There's enough slop in the numbers that we *might* have a 25 TB notebook drive in 2017, but it won't be $100. Plus iPods use 1.8" drives. A 24 TB iPod for $100 in 2017? No way. 2020 at the soonest if the stars align.

But is 6,000,000 songs "all the music ever recorded"? Puh-leeze! Not even close. The Library of Congress reports on their website collection includes

2,834,692 audio materials, such as discs, tapes, talking books, and other recorded formats . . . .

Plus, according to their latest annual reports, they have another 800,000 audio items in "unprocessed arrearage".

Let's be conservative and say that half of those "materials" are music and average 5 tracks each. That is another 7 million tracks. Let's allow for some overlap - after all, iTunes does have 282 tracks of Gamelan music out of the tens of thousands recorded over the years - but if the LOC doesn't have another 5 million non-iTunes tracks I'd be shocked.

Don't forget Record-rama! The folks at Pittsburgh's Record-rama claim

The Largest Collection of Recorded Music Anywhere

with twice the popular music of the Library of Congress! If so, let's say that's 10 million tracks that aren't in iTunes. But it could be 20 million.

Oh, and nobody records anything for the next 10 years?

100 TB iPods? And what about the British Library's World and Traditional Music Section, described as

. . . one of the world's largest collections of recordings variously described as traditional, folk or 'world' music. It encompasses most musical traditions of the world with published and unpublished recorded performances dating from the infancy of sound recording to the present day.

A death wail recorded in 1898 underscores the point.

The Storage Bits take No way will you be carrying all the world's recorded music around in 10 years. But the point of the panel was the impact of cheap storage - and cheap piracy - on the economics of the music business and the beleaguered record companies.

There is nothing new in what is happening today. In the 1880s music publishing meant sheet music. Then the gramophone came along and sheet music publishing began a long decline, but audio started a very long upward growth curve through shellac cylinders, 78s, LPs, 45s and CDs.

Just as the Xerox copier did not kill sheet music or book publishing, piracy will not kill the music business. What the record companies need to understand is that

  • They are no longer exclusive gatekeepers to popular music
  • (Some) people are willing to pay for quality reproduction and added-value context
  • Stopping online music downloads won't stop piracy - or even make much of a dent - as the price of storage continues to fall

Audiophiles appreciate 192 KB - 4x CD quality - music. Why don't record companies? Great album art and music videos add another dimension as well. Piracy is here to stay. The key is to re-define your product so it is both harder to pirate and is perceived as more valuable.

And a note to you music pirates out there: chances are good that you are being tracked 100% of the time. A word to the wise.

Comments welcome, of course. Oh, and what about flash drives? Or nanowires? Anything is possible, but disk drive areal density is higher today than flash, and even with the promise of 4 or even 8 bit multi-level flash, patterned media and self-assembling polymers will win the density battle over flash. Nanowires are a long way from the market.

Topics: Enterprise Software, Apple, Piracy, Security, Storage

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Audiophiles

    Audiophiles do not appreciate dreadful sounding 192Kbs, which is no where near CD quality, which is more like 750Kbs after lossless compression, actually 1410Kbs before compression. Even this is nowhere near true audiophile qualities, CDs don't sound anything like good quality analogue, and SACD and DVD-A have massive bitrates (I know not how high)...
  • RE: The paradise of infinite music

    Considering that I first purchased 640k ram for $640 in 1990, and today, the same will get me about 20 gig's. In the next 10 years, I fully expect to see 1 TB ram at $100 or less. Guess it is not the 24TB that you want, but it will hold 250,000 at today's compression. Listening to every song non stop will take over 45 years. Taking into account sleep, study, quiet time, this will hold more then anyone can listen to in their lifetime.
  • RE: The paradise of infinite music

    We'll never see iPods that big, as wireless connectivity will be so efficient and ubiquitous that there will be no need for local storage. If anything, they'll get smaller at some point...
    • For something a true audiophile will love,'d be talking about a sample rate of at least 192 KHz with a sample depth of at
      least 24 bits (which is DVD Audio). However, no matter how good digital gets, it still
      won't have the same warmth and depth of a LP played back on a high-quality
      • ... which means you've grown to love noise and distortion.


        With the RIAA "equalization" curve with its attendant phase shift and surface noise unavoidable even with the best virgin vinyl, even with $300 cartridge-and-stylus(needle) combos and the best playback turntable, electronics, and speakers (headphones are right out because you can't feel the bass), you can never get "really close" to reproducing the original performance, compared with a similarly-priced digital system.

        All of the long-touted "advantages of analog" are theoretical at best, and in truth are just cover-ups of the intrinsic inadequacies of the method. "High fidelity" means reproducing the original performance very closely, avoiding all possible noise and distortion, no matter how "pleasing" some people say it is, many of which people are simply conditioned to listening to music that way, and, of course, they are unaware if that conditioning.

        But you can get "really close" with live-to-digital (e.g. 24-bit, 192 KHz) recordings and good playback stuff. So close, in fact, that audiences can't tell the difference. Now that's "fidelity" in the true sense. If I want "coloring" and "warmth" in my sound reproduction system, I'll add it intentionally with electronics designed for that purpose, not put up with defects I can't remove no matter how much I spend.

        So there.

      • I should have said 192 KHz

        A guy I know who does music mastering for Hollywood and has about $100 grand
        in ProTools, claims that 192 kHz sounds a lot more like analog.

        After years of loud music - even with Etymotic musicians earplugs - I don't pretend
        to be able to tell the difference. But I'm sure some people can.

        Thanks for the comments.

        R Harris
  • George Carlin noted many years ago

    that some day you would see on late night TV the ad for "Every record ever made -- $15.95".
  • you forget about better encoding

    with better technology, what if a track the quality of 320, squeezed down to a 1mb file?

    as for dismissing it completely thats just crazy. or does no one really require more than 640k of ram?
  • In My Lifetime

    Using 2MB/minute (double what I usually rip at), and multiply out 60min/hr, 24hr/day, 365.24 days/yr, 100yr life span ... I could listen to 105TB of music. At 1MB/sec, it would only need to be half that size. I'd have to listen 24 hours a day, and someone would have to prearrange the music I listen to in a Mega-iPod and put the headphones on my ears the instant I was born. Showers would be interesting, and people would always be like, "Can he hear me while he's listening to the music?" And, I couldn't go to the concert to see any group I liked because it would take away from the time I was listening. I could I suppose add albums if I'm synching to my computer so I could get new music as it comes out (I won't be stuck with the original playlist placed on my head at birth). Although searching for new music would take away from the time I'm listening to the music already in my Mega-iPod. And there'the charging time ... batteries don't go 100 years without charging, and after continuous playing/charging would have to be replaced every fives years or so. I can't go back and listen to any song I liked again. So I guess 105TB is about the limit if you wanted to go for a record.

    Practically, though, how many hours can you listen and still be functional in society? I think one or two TB is all I could handle. 16,666 hours of music at 1MB/min, if I average 4.5 hrs of music listening a day, the Mega-iPod will cycle through the entier list in 10 years.
  • RE: The paradise of infinite music

    Well... I sure hope somewhere in that infinite storage of music that I'll FINALLY be able to get a hold of a copy of Lilly & Maria by Lilly & Maria...

    Long time coming... LONG time gone.