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The music industry does not need to fix its current methods, it needs to fix its thought process.
Streaming. Currently the most popular form of listening to music, one of the most debated topics in the music industry, and the cause for that one guy at music conferences constantly being attacked at panel discussions. Services such as Spotify, Apple Music, and Pandora offer the freedom of listening to any music, anywhere, and at any time, either for a monthly payment or for free. However, its free model of music is the cause of numerous debates among many music creators and industry professionals who fear that discouraging paying for music will diminish its value, and people will no longer be paid fairly for their work. But the verdict given to streaming services and its users of not appreciating the value of music is caused by the industry’s tendency to forget what era we live in, the digital era. Instead of understanding the reality of streaming’s place in the industry and taking advantage of it, people single-mindedly dwell on the changes that it has made to the business, constantly trying to spoon feed an old model to fans that clearly do not want to revert back to the past. As much as I completely love and respect artists like Adele and Taylor Swift who have revoked their music from streaming services (Adela’s “25” album from all services while Swift has remained on Apple Music), their decision which initially increased physical album sales will impact the number of concert tickets sold, merchandise purchased, and most importantly, the amount of fans who could have listened to and appreciated their art.
Despite what is said about it, streaming services promote music discovery at a level higher than ever before, and supposing that its users do not value music is an unfair assumption. Some of the most hard-core music fans that I know are on streaming services for the simple reason that it allows them to discover and listen to a higher quantity of new bands and rediscover old songs in simple and easy format. Realistically, enforcing the old habit of purchasing physical records is disregarding their cost, and forgetting the reality that many people cannot afford to buy new albums monthly, let alone invest into discovering music that has already been released. Think about the major group of fans that invest the most into the music industry through the purchase of concert tickets, merchandise, and even spending their time creating social media profiles dedicated to their favourite artists. Teenagers. According to USA Today, in the year of 2014, the rate of youth employment merely hit a high of 35% in the United Sates. In a country where minimum wage is $7.25 per hour and where only 35% of teenagers have jobs, the music industry is looking at them and saying “if you do not purchase albums, buy concerts tickets and merchandise, you do not truly value music”. And that is simply not fair. Forcing a model of music that Steve Albini clearly states barely worked in the past in his Face the Music keynote will not work now. Encouraging the purchase physical albums is not a method that promotes the value of music. It promotes selectivity, major artists, and completely takes away the ability of music fans to find artists and song which they connect with best, and for smaller artists to make a career.
Think of it as in clothes. Everyone has a preference for certain styles, and despite possible window shopping, at the end of the day, they invest money into their go-to stores that have proven to be satisfactory in the past. Those are the major artists. Now imagine if all clothing was available for free. Wouldn’t people spend more time discovering more styles, designers, and stores, simply because they now have the freedom to do so? Clothing would no longer be a huge investment, and instead, people would have the ability to freely shop, find what they truly like, without having to worry about the effect of its price on their bank accounts.
That’s what streaming services do. Streaming services promote listening outside the box, and offer a risk free method of listening to music. People no longer have to purchase every album that they wish to listen to just to realize that half of which they do not even like. Instead, fans have the freedom to listen to an unlimited amount of new music without investing into it, and if they do not like it, they simply move on. Most streaming services also offer playlists tailored to their user’s music preferences, providing people with an additional way of discovering new artists similar to their preferred albums and songs.
In addition to promoting music discovery among fans, streaming also encourages music sharing, and enables any artist with a laptop to share their music for free to the world’s largest hub of music fans. Old methods of music distribution meant selectivity. It meant only allowing a small fraction of bands to actually share their music because getting their albums into retail stores required promoters, and a lot of money. Streaming services promote the creation of music which is at an all time high, which, ironically, is somehow an argument that is used against streaming services. The music industry does not need to fix its current methods, it needs to fix its thought process, because somehow, the ability for fans to listen to more music than ever, and for more artists to share their music has been depicted as toxic in the business. It is thought that an abundance of music has made it more difficult to make a living in music, which is true to a certain extant. However, the pre-internet era made it almost impossible for artists, requiring them to have sufficient funds to firstly record and produce their music, which was difficult enough already, as well as the ability to travel and play to fans since it was the only way to create a fanbase. Streaming has given more bands and artists the opportunity to create music, share their music, and attract fans in a method that is no more difficult than before, simply different.
Another popular argument against streaming is that it does not pay artists fairly for their work. Admittedly, streaming services do not pay a huge royalty per stream, roughly around between $0.006 and $0.0084 after distributing shares to labels and publishers. However, there is one thing about streaming that people tend to forget. The history of consumer habits of listening to music did not simply jump from purchasing CDs and Vinyl’s to streaming music for free and no longer paying. There is a step in between that many people tend forget; music piracy. In 1999, Shawn Fanning, John Fanning, and Sean Parker developed Napster, a site that offered the free download of any song off of the internet, where music creators, publishers, and labels were LITERALLY not getting paid. The purpose of streaming services such as Spotify, Apply Music, and Pandora was to end piracy while maintaining a format of music that users clearly preferred. Despite the low royalties that streaming services distribute, these sites should be thought of as discovery platforms versus revenue sources. Those attempting to revitalize physical albums are living in a recorded music industry, whereas the current business has evolved to being driven by live music, which streaming help fuel.
Finally, streaming services emphasize the importance and value of good music. Revenues earned per album are now mostly based on the amount of streams that they receive, no longer making it possible for major artists to release albums with only several good songs and expecting them to hit #1. Since income earned is dependent on how many times a song is played, it is more important than ever for a song to be good enough to be listened to over one- hundred times in order to earn the same revenue as if it had been bought on ITunes. Despite what is said about streaming, it’s payment process of earning revenue per stream is a lot more logical than earning revenue per purchase. It is not reasonable let alone fair that a song purchased and played once earns the same revenue as a song purchased and played hundreds of times by the same fan. Streaming offers a more accurate reflection “Top Hits” than ITunes charts because the position of a song is solely dependant on how many times that it is played. The bottom line is that in order to earn revenue, a song has to be streamed more than once, even more than fifty times. And in order for a song to be played, it has to be good, have significance in peoples lives, and be timeless. Additionally, many people I know that pay for streaming also purchase the physical copy of their favourite albums to add to their collections.
Despite the flaws that streaming evidently does have, attempting to get fans to purchase their albums again is a useless attempt because at the end of the day, consumers have decided that streaming offers their ideal method of listening to music, and they are not looking to switch. It is evident that streaming is the future of listening to music, so instead of trying to fight it, its current potential must be realized and taken advantage of, while also developing a system that is fair and liked among all music creators, industry professionals, and fans. Not to say that streaming systems are perfect and that there is no improvement to be made, but streaming IS the future of the music industry, and it is creating incredible opportunities for fans as well as artists at an incredible scale.