The Future of Music Streaming

Sunday 28th June 2015

Or, music streaming is the future, should I say.

As a consumer we’re certainly not short changed when it comes to choice of streaming platforms available to us; but it’s the artists themselves who are feeling exactly that. We’ve gone from the days of shopping on our local high street of a weekend with our hard earned paper-round money, passing through the handfuls of music stores, deciding where to purchase the latest release from; to having to decide which online service to now download from.

We are living in what is known as the digital era, current generations are known as the digital natives, and this has changed the way in which we are consuming media. The music industry shouldn’t feel picked on though, because cinema attendance has reduced dramatically and they are still battling hard with the illegal sharing of the latest blockbusters. Print media has declined too, which has largely been impacted upon by social media. We all lead busy lives, and find it easier and quicker to digest the latest headlines within 140 characters or less. It can takes a few seconds to scroll through a Twitter feed, but do people still have time to finger though the daily newspaper? That is of course, all down to personal preference.

So whilst the likes of film, print, and of course television are all still trying to adapt to these changes, so is the music industry. I may be one of the few who still has a very large CD collection, whereas others have converted theirs to MP3 and then sold them off at the local carboot sale. Admittedly I still enjoy browsing the charity shops to add to my collection, and even looking through the 15p bargain bins for cassettes that I can play on journeys in my little rust bucket. But I digress. What I’m trying to get at here is that physical CD sales have gone down dramatically, with streaming services going up.

With the rise of the Internet came the rise of the illegal file sharing websites, and in my opinion this is why streaming is here to save the day. Wiping out piracy completely would be a feat in itself, but being able to stream the music we enjoy for free has cut this dramatically. So, whilst we can sign up to our favourite streaming platform and listen to as much music as we want for free, the artists are still getting paid too. In 2014, Ed Sheeran was the most streamed artist as well as accumulating the most digital downloads of the year, and I’m yet to see him pipe up and declaring to remove himself from the likes of Spotify. Yet, that’s exactly what his fellow artist and closest friend Taylor Swift did. Last year, Taylor announced she was removing herself from Spotify and all other streaming platforms, as she did not feel that it was fair to allow users to stream music for free, when others were purchasing it through the likes of iTunes. That week she sold 1.3 billion copies of her album.

A nice little stunt, which clearly worked out and paid off nicely. However, she is already an established artist earning millions of pounds, selling out world tours, and has a huge fan following. Think of it this way – everybody has that one artist/band which they enjoy above all others, and when you enjoy something that much you want to own it. Taylor Swift fans will probably already have a collection of her previous albums/DVDs/merchandise, etc. and will continue to add to this, so removing herself from online streaming sites was never going to cause her to loose any sleep at night.  On the flip side to this, there are musicians that we all enjoy listening to but we’re happy to catch them on the radio or pull a playlist of their greatest hits together on Spotify; but we might not be too fussed about purchasing a physical album otherwise.

I realise that may sound like a slight dig at Taylor Swift, but I actually have a lot of respect for her constantly standing up for other artists, because what she was trying to prove she was ultimately successful at. Whether this would work for other artists I’m not sure. It worked in her favour this time, but if all other artists jumped on the bandwagon, it could ultimately discourage fans and encourage piracy again. On top of this Taylor recently made the decision to remove her music from Apple’s new streaming service, which once it has launched will allow users to trial the service for free for the first 3 months. Great for the consumers, but not so great for the artists who wouldn’t see a penny for their music during this period. I admire Taylor for this, and completely agree with everything that she penned to Apple – nobody should be out of pocket for their hard earned work, whether you’re a mega rich superstar or just starting out. Apple has since backed down and agreed to pay all artists, including during the trial period. There was a news report recently that Taylor has now agreed to stream her music on the new Apple service, which I can only assume if true involves a hefty amount of money. However, until this has been clarified I’ll await further judgement.

Tidal recently joined the music streaming market, which was acquired by Jay Z’s company early this year. It hasn’t got off to a great start and my first thoughts direct straight to their marketing approach. I think a lot of people were flummoxed by the likes of Madonna, Beyonce, Kanye West, Deadmau 5, and Rihanna standing on stage telling the world they don’t earn a fair price for their music, and that Tidal was standing up to that. On top of that there is no free option – you can trial the service, but following this there are only paid options, with the premium option offering lossless music and HD videos. I think a better strategy here would have been to listen to the audiences and provide a service that people would want to pay for.

Okay, so maybe that was me having a gripe, but so far we’ve only seen multi-million pound selling artists speak out. I’ve had conversations with local up-and-coming musicians who appreciate people taking the time to listen to their music and ultimately that is their aim, to get their music out there and heard. If they have to hand out a few free CDs in the process then that’s fine, as long as the fans enjoy it. Alongside this, I’ve been to gigs where established artists are playing arenas, and at the end of their set encourage fans to meet them at the merchandise table to say hello and take a few selfies. There’s nothing more heart warming than hearing an artist thank the audience for taking time out to head to one of their gigs, because not only is that what they live for, it’s how they make their living. With music sales heading downwards, drawing crowds out to live music venues is where the money is currently to be made.

This is exactly where streaming services are doing the right thing. They offer fans the chance to discover new music, maybe try out the latest album before deciding whether to purchase it, or listen to it anytime they want on their device; but with both free and premium options, artists are getting paid. Whether that is enough to satisfy the artist is a conversation for them to thrash out, but it’s certainly a better option than having declining CD sales on top of piracy. Deep down I think artists realise this to, but are yet to back down. Recently, Madonna released the video for her latest single on Tidal, which was the only place you could view it for the first 24 hours before it’s official release on YouTube. Did this make anyone rush to sign up to Tidal, or did we all sleep on it then watch it on YouTube the next morning?