A lot has been said about music streaming in the past months; at first because of Tidal, then because of Apple Music. Despite all this, I would like to throw my opinion into the endless void of articles and blog posts discussing the advantages and disadvantages of music streaming services. As a person who looks at the issue from both perspectives (consumer and potential musician), I have found that there isn’t any one article that I fully agree with.
When Apple Music was about to launch, Taylor Swift posted an open letter which said she will not be making her latest album available unless artists get paid during the 3-month trial period which Apple was offering to all new users. Her argument was that small, independent artists need to get paid for the work they put into making their music. Then people called her out for being somewhat hypocritical, because many photographers don’t get paid for taking pictures of her shows. Not the point.
The point is that I don’t agree with Taylor Swift’s arguments against music streaming. Despite whatever she said about “smaller artists”, her (or her record label’s) approach to music streaming comes strictly from personal gain. There’s a reason her music is available on Tidal and Apple Music, but not on Spotify, Pandora, or Deezer (and my guess is that the reason is money, but let’s not speculate). With this in mind, arguing for “small musicians'” sake isn’t entirely honest.
In my opinion the movement away from music downloads/purchases and towards music streaming is 100% the right thing to do. I’m a person who had over 100,000 songs in their iTunes library (pre-Apple Music), of which less than 1% was purchased, of which at least 40% was purchased as bootleg CDs. Making me pay $10 a month to listen to music is bringing more money to Swift & Co than having me download music for free. So there’s that.
There’s also the fact that owning music isn’t something most people want to do any more. Sales of music downloads are plummeting, while the annual growth of vinyl sales surpasses that of music downloads and CDs combined. The big vinyl comeback reflects people’s desire to own music they love, but not all music. (A similar “renting vs owning” trend can be seen in the real estate and automotive sector too.)
With this in mind, it makes much more sense to support music streaming, but forget about the idea that digital sales will ever provide musicians with sustainable income; that comes from concerts as well as merch and vinyl sales.
When it comes to smaller artists who make music (like, potentially, me), streaming is a great way to make some money. As I said earlier, it won’t put food on my table, but it’s a step in the right direction.
The music industry (and it is very much an industry, where the “art” itself means very little to very few) has always been difficult to become part of. In the past, people would have to put money down to make their first mixtapes and LPs. They would have to put in a tremendous amount of work to get noticed.
This is still true today, with the exception of the cost of recording. In the DIY punk/post-hardcore era the cost of recording an LP was double (if not triple) of what it is now. The same recording could be made today (albeit on digital equipment, not analogue tapes) for nearly free (save for the cost of mixing/renting studio space). Sharing this music can be done with a few mouse clicks, while back then you had to share your music yourself by playing shows and getting attention (exactly the same as today), trying to sell some tapes/LPs after the show.
The advantage of music streaming services comes from the fact that the pennies you can potentially make with Spotify/Apple Music/Deezer are still money you wouldn’t be making with Soundcloud or free music downloads.
In conclusion: Music streaming is good for everyone involved. It might not solve every problem in the music industry, but it’s a step in the right direction. Thank you, Taylor Swift, for voicing your opinions, but your arguments for the smaller musicians still don’t resolve any of the underlying issues these smaller musicians face.
P.S. Someone who is actually fighting the music industry is Prince. He was fighting the industry before it was cool. He hated Napster, and ever since Napster went tits up he’s had a huge mistrust to anything digital (his music is not available on any streaming services).