Apple's new iCloud service, which as part of its offering provides music storage in the cloud and auto-sync across all iTunes-enabled devices, looks set to revolutionise the way consumers access their music - while of course tying them in ever more to Apple. But what will this mean for DJs? Is it likely to change the way we access, store and play our music?Does it mean that the days of having a huge hard drive, backing it up religiously, and collecting vast gigabytes of music on our home PCs and laptops will be a thing of the past? We take a look into what could be a very different future for DJs...
What's different about iCloud?
iCloud has a couple of aces up its sleeve which differentiate it from similar services offered by Amazon and Google. The big, big thing is that it puts all of your music "in the cloud", without you having to actually upload the vast majority of it - iCloud just looks at what you've got in your iTunes on your local machine or machines, and it magically appears in your new iCloud service immediately - as long as it's already in iTunes's store, that is.
All music appears in AAC 256kbps format, and in effect Apple is standardising and cleaning up all your music - it will all be in a uniform format, all metadata present and correct, and so on. Once you're up and running, your music also appears in the iTunes programs/iTunes app on all your devices - your Mac or Windows PC, your iPad, your iPod Touch and/or your iPhone. Buy something on one device, and it appears on all the others. For music not purchased through iTunes, iTunes Match costs US$24.99/year and lets you add an unlimited quantity of music to your iCloud iTunes account that you didn't buy from iTunes - ie all your existing collection! Of course, you have to upload the stuff that iTunes can't match, but that means that once you have, it all gets synced across all of your devices just the same.
It's available now in beta in the US (although you'll have to wait a few months for iTunes Match), and no doubt will be available to all soon. But what does it mean for DJs?
How iCloud may change DJing
Here's a few thoughts:
- iTunes will become more integrated with DJ software - This is turning into the ultimate music library. Being able to access all of your tunes, playlists, metadata etc properly via iTunes in DJ software is a seductive idea, and I can't see anything but closer integration in the future. Traktor, in particular, is poor in this department - expect this to improve. The idea of your DJ software keeping its own database is feeling clunkier by the week
- The 256kbps AAC format will become dominant - I have very little music in this format, but I am led to believe it sounds as good as 320kbps MP3. If so, there's no reason why it shouldn't become the dominant music format should iCloud take off.
- Streaming will mean you only keep limited music for offline use - The service doesn't come with streaming - it uses WiFi to sync all of your devices, so you still have a physical copy of every record on every device. But it no doubt will soon, and at that point, you'll only carry what you want to on each device, and stream the rest should you need it. Spotify is already slick at this, giving you the option to download folders, playlists, albums etc for offline use, streaming the rest. So you could prepare a set, have local copies of your music for that set, and have the rest of your music in the cloud, maybe pulling down anything else on the fly should you need it. Which means that...
- The laptop may start to become unnecessary at gigs - So if your set is available to you on iTunes on your iPhone, why take your laptop? Why not just plug your iPhone into next-generation DJ gear in clubs, and play from the local files? It would be a bit like playing on Pioneer CDJ-2000's with USB sticks
- DJ gear will start to appear with iCloud/iTunes sync built in - We have already seen in the Stanton SCS4.DJ that it is perfectly possible to have a modern DJ controller without a separate computer, as that particular controller has a computer and screen built-in (we have one here, by the way - review coming soon). All it would need would be a firmware upgrade and a WiFi/3G enabled device (or an iPhone interface) and you could play your iTunes/iCloud music directly on it. I am happy to bet that manufacturers are already looking at this (the SCS4.DJ, tellingly, has two spare USB slots in its body, where music supply devices could be located).
- You won't bother to download local copies of stuff from online sources any more - When you come across stuff on SoundCloud, or music blogs, there'll be a "transfer to my iCloud" button as well as a "download" one, and iCloud will take care of syncing it across all your devices
Still a few rivers to cross...
Of course, there are issues. A lot of people will be hesitant to give up control to Apple in this way. DJ software and hardware will have to find a way of storing analysis information in AAC files, much like Serato already does in MP3s, rather than having separate libraries of metadata like Traktor (for instance) currently does.
But it will be fascinating to see how this develops. If, as is expected, full streaming of your music is introduced (it's one of the things we predicted for 2011), and adoption is high (and as all of this stuff is built in to the next auto-update of iTunes, we have to suppose it will be), the DJ companies will without doubt be leaping over each other to innovate in this area.
And the first of the big players that manages to jump into bed with Apple on this one may well change the DJ market profoundly, cleaning up for itself in the process. We watch and wait...
Did you watch the iCloud keynote? Do you already store music in the cloud, or stream music using other services? Would integration with this type of service appeal to you for your DJing? Let us know your thought in the comments.