Here I am at SXSW, and it's now fully transitioned from the tech geeks (and marketing flacks) attending the Interactive festival to the music geeks attending live music showcases at night and catching a few panels during the day.
The ages of people at the showcases I've attended thus far range from "he's old enough to get into a bar?" to "heck yeah I'm still young compared to that dude." And with that range comes a dichotomy in terms of what it means to "have" music.
People my age (I'm 41)—and certainly for those older than me (and probably some about 10 years younger than me)—were all raised owning our own copies of the music we listened to. That mentality is hard for us to break and for good reason: we know what it's like to NOT be able to get and listen to the song we want to listen to at that moment.
Growing up I remember friends having albums that I wanted to have, but were out of print at the time so I had to wait for a reissue or find it in the (gently-)used bin at the record shop. CDs came out and fixed a lot of that because so much music was reissued at that point, but still there was a lag — not everything was available on CD the moment I wanted it, and some stuff still isn't available in any form.
People raised in our current "streaming age" have yet to experience that. In fact, everything is becoming more available, so much so that it's no big deal not to own a song as long as you keep your Spotify or Rdio subscription current.
What happens when the song you liked 5 years ago suddenly falls in popularity and Spotify stops carrying it for some reason? Or what happens if you lose all your playlists you've built up on Spotify?
Many of today's consumers don't know what it's like to LOSE access to a piece of music, and by nature of the Universe that's bound to happen at some point. So what happens then?
Sure some folks won't care and will just move on to the current song du jour, but that's been true forever. I'm talking about the true music fan who, because he/she was raised in the streaming age, owns nothing more than an iPhone and a Spotify subscription (and perhaps a great pair of headphones...and a Sonos system). What happens to that person when they just lose access to their favorite songs?
They don't yet know to collect and squirrel away music because they haven't been conditioned to do so. Mark my words, though: squirreling things away is human nature (and squirrel nature). As soon as (or if) some significant chunk of what's available today becomes NOT available, or even just difficult to access in some way, there will be this mad rush to buy and own music again.
For many true music fans, that will be an expensive—and perhaps cost-prohibitive—lesson. The $360 you spent for 3 years of Spotify could have bought you 360 songs that you retain access to forever.
So what happens then? Does another streaming service pop up and take the previous one's place? Probably, but for how many people will the damage already be done? And how long will it take to raise another generation that doesn't remember that great loss? And how many iterations of this can the current climate survive before people just spent $10 per month on 10 songs per month and build up their own library that never leaves them?
I like streaming music, so much so that even I have succumbed to the concept of "I don't need to buy it because I can stream it" in a lot of cases. But every now and then I think, "Be careful, Dave — the fact that you can stream it today is no guarantee that you can do so again tomorrow."