For most people, obtaining music involves a transactional experience. I give you money and in exchange, you give me a piece of plastic (a CD, a record, a tape) or access to a digital file (iTunes, eMusic, etc.) At the end of the transaction, I possess (own) a copy of the performance. And it will remain mine until I throw it away or delete it from my hard drive.

But this idea of possessing music is becoming a rather quaint notion. Think about it: If you’re able to access whatever song you want from wherever you are at whatever time on any device you choose, why on Earth would you ever need to physically possess a piece of plastic or a digital file?

This is the thinking behind a number of emerging music services that offer on-demand streams. Spotify (a Swedish creation not yet available in Canada) allows users to instantly access specific songs or albums through your computer. Although you need a wired Internet connection now, coders are working on an application for the iPhone, Google’s Android platform and Wi-Fi. Spotify is free, but that might change once it’s out of beta.

We7 is a U.K. service that does much the same thing with the complete blessing of the major labels. Part of its business model involves running ads that they called “blipverts” before songs.

In both cases, the consumer doesn’t have to pay for anything. The value for the music streaming company and its label partners comes from the data they capture from you. By registering with these services, companies know who you are, what you’re listening to and what kind of device you’re using. Theoretically, this allows them to better target you with recommendations. It also means better targeting for advertisers, but most people don’t mind being subjected to ads as long as they’re for goods and services in which they might be interested.

The thinking here is twofold: The music “feels” free to the consumer. It’s like having the world’s biggest hard drive full of music without having to pay for anything — or without it taking up space on the shelf or the hard drive. Second, if you can get all the music you want, it should cut down on piracy.

Will it work? Maybe. We’ll see. The digital world is littered with good ideas.

– The Ongoing History of New Music can be heard on stations across Canada. Read more at www.ongoinghistory.com and www.exploremusic.com

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