2014 may be the year the future catches up to us. Especially in the wake of last month's Consumer Electronics Show, the technology making headlines seems more like Doctor Who props than products from your local Best Buy. 3D printers, wearables, and robots are no longer just the fantasies of pre-adolescent boys--they're actually here. And while we may not be trading our Warby Parkers for Google Glass anytime soon, there's no question that these trends are already disrupting modern society.

Music has been in the middle of this disruption for some time, and the industry has been experiencing fierce growing pains these past few years. It's time for several key issues to come to a head: streaming versus downloading, Internet versus terrestrial radio, royalties, rights battles, video, and other hot topics are ready for real, lasting change.

Below are some of the people, companies, and products to watch this year--change-makers I'm keeping an eye on in the first quarter of 2014. Some are household names and others are new to the scene, but they're all tackling the industry's crucial issues in innovative ways. Read more below and tell us in the comments: what music-tech trends are you watching this year?


The Hyped Streaming Service

Ian Rogers and team have just unveiled Beats Music, and it's going to take some time to germinate--but readers of this blog will likely find it hard to disagree with their general premise. They're trying to put the 'service' back in streaming services, adding a human element through expert curation (among other features). Beats isn't just a stockpile of songs, it's a lovingly and smartly compiled collection.

Is that enough to set it apart from the Spotifys, Rdios, and Pandoras of the world? Only time will tell. (It couldn't hurt that they've produced a Super Bowl commercial to introduce the service to the wider world.)


The All-Purpose Ticket Tool

The hunt for the best ticketing app is on! With technology increasingly devoted to the get-it-now mentality (see: HotelTonight, Grubhub, Postmates, and many more), music needs to catch up--especially when it comes to concerts. Apps like Jukely and Willcall are hoping to dominate this space, and each has made a different gamble about the direction of mobile ticketing. Jukely tries to bring it all, with strong social components and full-track streaming, while WillCall is streamlining the concert experience through in-app merch purchasing, artist tipping, and the nifty new BarTab feature.

2014 may not give us a clear winner, but there's no question that concert ticketing is ready for a strong mobile experience. These services may end up duking it out, Ticketmaster's app may gain ground, or an as-yet-unknown app may sweep the competition under the merch table. We'll see.


The Behind-the-Scenes Battle for Your Dashboard

This is a war for the other kind of mobile--the good old-fashioned automobile. Except it's not so old-fashioned anymore: with Pandora largely paving the way for music-techy car collaborations, others are bringing their own options to the table.

Metadata giant Gracenote launched Gracenote Rhythm in early January as a direct competitor to the Echo Nest, whose music intelligence API has powered companies from Spotify to VEVO to MTV. Like the Echo Nest's offering, Gracenote Rhythm will allow businesses to develop their own recommendation engines around artists, songs, genres, and more. These two services offer exciting possibilities for innovation, and car radio is only one of seemingly zillions of options. But with a record number of automotive exhibitors popping up at CES and cars becoming increasingly connected, the story practically writes itself. The idea of Ford building its own Pandora-like music service into car dashboards isn't a pipe dream, it's one step away from reality.


Wearing Your Ears On Your Sleeve (Or Your Glasses)

Wearable tech is the hot topic so far in 2014, and it only makes sense for music to get wrapped up in the hype. Google has already started exploring wearable listening: their music service is available on Google Glass and Google Play Music All Access subscribers were invited to the Glass Explorer Program back in December. And then there's the festival experience, with San Francisco's own Outside Lands offering a wristband to help you stay connected to friends, send pictures, and more. Other companies and festivals are sure to follow suit.

From a different vantage point, Boombotix just got $4 million in funding for its clip-on speakers. Techcrunch even notes that the company "has begun to position its speakers as a wearable play, in part to capitalize on the growing interest in that device category." While clip-on speakers may be a primitive form of wearable tech (and maybe even more of a marketing ploy), it's a step in the right direction.


Scratching the Surface

These are just a few examples of the changes in music technology and the industry more broadly. There's also 3D printing, which will.i.am is already championing in his role as Chief Creative Officer for 3D Systems. There's brand sponsorship, a controversial saving grace for a revenue-hungry industry. (But it's a trend very much in progress: brands pumped £104.8m into British music in 2012. 2013 figures will probably blow that number out of the water.) There's the shift to mobile, there's video, there's crowdfunding, there's so much more. The music industry is facing a crossroads, and 2014 may be the year artists, consumers, and companies choose a path.

Photo: Vikramdeep Sidhu/Flickr