Music Streaming: The Downfall or The Salvation of Aspiring Artists?
Playlists: Spotify allows you to browse music through a system of pre-made playlists
The last 20 years has witnessed a steep a surge in the use of technology in music, causing a continually shifting business environment for musicians. With 30 million people currently paying for a monthly Spotify subscription, and a further 221 million people estimated to be using streaming services worldwide by 2020, it is clear that a new age of music consumption in upon us; and there are mixed opinions in the music industry.
Before the development of streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music, music was able to be treated as a tangible commodity that largely existed in the physical forms of vinyl records, tapes, and then later CDs. The experience of a career in music in a pre- streaming environment differs significantly from that of today, in that a large proportion of artist income now comes in the form of royalties; payment in exchange for the use of an artist's music from radio stations, television stations, and of course, from streaming services.
The world of music is renowned to be a difficult world to penetrate in a professional capacity, and there is much debate that Spotify is one of the reasons why this is becoming increasingly true. In 2014, Taylor Swift famously removed her music catalogue from Spotify, claiming that royalties rate were insufficient and damaging for professional artists. In an interview with independent Mexican media site Soptias, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke echoed similar sentiments, stating ‘I feel like as musicians we need to fight the Spotify thing. I feel that in some ways what's happening in the mainstream is the last gasp of the old industry.’
As with all art forms, accessibility is key to music. There is no debating that streaming services has allowed the average listener’s access to music to dramatically augment, to the extent that almost any song of any genre can be immediately searched, played and saved either at home or on the go. In 1996, Napster was launched; the first online peer-to-peer streaming platform for music, that largely consisted of non regulated file sharing. This, for the first time, allowed people to upload and download sound files online for no cost. Although perhaps unknown at the time, this reasonably small website marked a vital milestone in the timeline of music consumption history. Between 1996 and the present day, the complexity of streaming services has inevitably increased. Spotify now not only provides a search function to browse their 30 million song catalogue, but has become much richer and all encompassing experience. Spotify Radio, for example, is a service that continuously generates a playlists of songs based on your previous song preferences as you listen. The service also incorporates live studio sessions with a range of artists and makes them available to the user through the platform. Spotify has gone beyond the form of a simple search engine, and has began to create an involved and personalised user experience that incorporates a variety of engaging features.
Pixies live studio recording for Spotify Sessions
Alternatively to premium paid services, there also exists a demand for freemium services, and sites such as Soundcloud allow people to share and upload their own sound files. Platforms such as these provide an invaluable resource for aspiring musicians who are now able to upload their music and make it immediately accessible to a massive online community of other users. Australian DJ and producer Mall Grab was initially discovered on Soundcloud, and has now amassed a following of 1.36 million users on the site. Now pursuing a successful international career, it is clear that such success is partially owed to Soundcloud's streaming format, and many established artists strongly agree. So much so that in July last year, American Hip Hop artist Chance the Rapper sparked a twitter campaign to save Soundcloud, after it was announced that the site was experiencing a financial demise set to end Soundcloud within 50 days. He took to twitter and urged people to “@ an artist who you wouldn’t know if not for SoundCloud,”. It was eventually announced that the issue had been resolved, and that 'Soundcloud is here to stay'. It is unconfirmed whether Chance the Rapper made an investment that rescued to website from collapse or not, but either way it is clear that accessibility to such platforms amongst aspiring artists is greatly valued in the world of professional music.
The status quo seems to be that streaming is largely beneficial for aspiring and upcoming musicians, but can generally reduce the incentive to pursue music as a career once the initial hurdle of getting your music out there is surpassed. Thom York says "But it's all about how we change the way we listen to music, it's all about what happens next in terms of technology, in terms of how people talk to each other about music, and a lot of it could be really fucking bad." Spotify has stated that the average "per stream" payment to the holders of music rights is currently between $0.006 and $0.0084, a figure that seems dauntingly underwhelming for those who seek to make a living through these services. It seems that the future of music is set to be a very much online environment and it is perhaps our duty to maintain an equilibrium between accessibility of music, and the appropriate income of the affected artists that contribute their music to streaming services.