Distributed music epitomizes many aspects of what we should expect to see across all other points in the custom-installed entertainment arena, especially as we the industry continue the march toward full IP implementation, i.e. connecting devices and users to a virtual “cloud” of entertainment and control options.

But what do we mean when referring to a cloud? Think back just a few years ago when consumers who wanted to access a large selection of music had to possess an equally large collection of software and sources. Stacks of equipment, controllers, keypads and, of course, miles of wire were required to meet the goal of being able to hear music where they want, when they wanted it. Such intricate systems could play multiple sources at a time, feeding different content to every wired room in the house. A music-lover’s dream, but one that has become increasingly complex as new “solutions” such as satellite radio, HDD media servers and other bridges to digital content started to replace more traditional stand-alone components.

As these bridges to content started to proliferate, the digital menu grew exponentially – right alongside the complexity involved when installing, maintaining and just plain using these new fangled systems. The question then became how do we achieve a seamless experience allowing simple access to any number of resources with the room to grow as new technologies and sources are introduced? And, as far as manufacturers and dealers are concerned, how can we communicate the benefits and value of these systems to an eager, though justifiably skeptical consumer who may be concerned about the expense and knowledge base required to operate the latest and most appealing systems?

Before answering this question, we should consider that as important as music is to all of us, it is by far not the only compelling part of the equation.

Over the past several years, it has become clear that one of the most traditional content delivery methods, the newspaper, is losing ground to the immediacy and interactive potential of the Internet. The newspaper publishers, and the industry that operates the complex printing and distribution methods behind the product, are struggling to compete with the low cost and growing power of IP, which allows consumers to read any news story from anywhere in the world. Speaking for myself, I’ve come to rely on my computer for my daily fix of the news, while the newspaper is more of a luxury that I squeeze in when there is time.

The same obvious shift and potential for growth can be applied to the music industry, where traditional venues such as terrestrial radio and compact discs are dwindling as important new streaming services like Rhapsody® are likely to become your primary source of music, just as radio was for the previous generation. Music is being consumed over the Internet at a gargantuan rate.

Consumers are growing accustomed to streaming vast amounts of music into their lives, with access to sources just about anywhere on the planet. This new thirst for music does not require stacks of discs, specialized equipment, miles of wire or complex installation. A simple wireless network and laptop PC or portable player with Wi-Fi will allow people to listen to music anywhere in the house.

Unlike most forms of media in a consumer’s life, audio products are still relentlessly analog. Think of the common AVR, for example, with its multitude of input/output connections and myriad methods of controlling a stack of source components. And, though iTunes® may be the leading source of legal audio purchases, the download phenomenon as a whole has yet to really hit its stride, both as a delivery method and a profit center for the music industry.

When comparing the two types of content (music and information), it is clear that the former is lagging behind the latter, but not as far as even a year ago at this time. Rhapsody offers subscribers legal access to over 8,000,000 songs, in addition to tens of thousands of radio stations and a near-limitless supply of podcasts and direct downloads from the artists themselves. The music follows us into our cars, our workplace, and anywhere else we have broadband IP access. (Does anybody doubt video will be next?)

The next logical step is to integrate these new IP-based delivery methods into our homes and, by extension, our daily lifestyles. With more music being consumed than ever before, the opportunity for growth is equally as strong, provided we accomplish some very specific goals in short order.

Integrate user interfaces into the home, just as the audio industry did in the past with our analog solutions.
Provide customers with access to the music we already own while unlocking the door to the “cloud of content” available through IP
Explore “No New Wires” innovations such as Powerline Carrier technology that uses a home’s AC wiring to deliver digital entertainment to as many as 10 rooms in the house.
Integrate standards so that the systems installed today will be compatible with new systems introduced in the future
Allow for modular installation so that sources and rooms can be easily added over time
Integrate the user interface with other systems providing light and energy management

If the audio and music industries continue to embrace the new, which in this case refers to IP technology, then their biggest challenge will be keeping up with sales.

About Russound
Since 1967, innovation, quality and reliability have been the pillars of the Russound® product tradition. Located in Newmarket, N.H., Russound, the #1 brand in multiroom audio*, offers the products and expertise customers need to enjoy multiroom audio and video systems in the home. With more than 40 years experience, Russound continues to cater to installation professionals and their customers by pairing powerful systems using the latest technologies with intuitive controls to give customers high-performance, easy-to-use solutions. For more information, visit the company¹s Web site at www.russound.com.

*#1 Brand in Multiroom Audio according to EH Research for Brand Awareness from 2005 to 2008.