Dead or alive? That seems to be the main question when it comes to the music industry. The answers vary depending on whom you ask. Consumers would probably say that the music industry is alive and well. In fact, it might be the best time to consume music: you can listen to your favorite artists online whenever and wherever you want for free or at a low price.
Streaming services and radios, such as Spotify or Pandora, are at the peak of their success with Spotify reaching over 50 million subscribers, more than 12 million of which are paid users, and with the percentage of music streaming rising every year. However, you’d get a different answer from artists themselves, who just can’t make a living off such streaming sites, despite their music being listened to by thousands of users.
These two viewpoints distract from a more complex reality. There is no doubt that the Internet has changed the way music is consumed, produced, and distributed. For the artist, streaming and one-song purchases are less profitable than selling entire albums. In fact, quite a few artists have expressed concerns or forthright contempt about services like Spotify. A well-known example of this involved Taylor Swift removing her catalogue from the online streaming site. She did this on the basis that artists do not get their fair share of profits, and she is not alone on this.
Initiatives such as the Content Creators Coalition and Fair Digital Deals Declaration also show that artists feel threatened in the digital age. In response to accusations, Spotify has made their payments more transparent: the service only keeps 30% of their profits and claim that record labels are to blame for short-changing of artists. Another concern comes from David Byrne, who claims that it would be unsustainable for creative work to be funded by digital streaming. Spotify, again, asserts that streaming is more profitable than single track sales, as royalties are paid for every listen. Moreover, they claim their rates to be higher than other services:
Despite his critiques, Byrne agrees that music-streaming sites are a great way for new artists to get exposure. They can be found not only by new fans, but also by producers who may get them a record label deal. In this way, the digital revolution has benefited musicians. Traditional record labels can be exploitative and do not allow for much variety. Nowadays, new artists can self-manage through websites like SoundCloud, where the rights to the content and full profits belong to them alone. Subscribing to this view is music producer Steve Albini, for whom the ability to freely share and listen to music is ‘an incredible development’. The British Phonographic Industry goes so far as to claim that streaming actually fuels UK’s music industry growth. Perhaps it’s a bit early to be concerned about online streaming — despite the fact that this way of listening to music is undeniably growing, physical sales remain dominant in the UK.
All this considered, the music industry is really neither alive nor dead, and this Schrodinger’s cat situation is a result of its attempts to adapt to the massive transformations wrought by digitization. Luke Henderson, producer at Fluke Productions, a recording studio in East London puts a positive spin on the situation: “streaming does provide an easily accessible platform for upcoming artists that never previously existed. Indeed it is good to see, in spite of the disarray of the industry the amount of people out there still making half decent music!”
This platform, i.e. streaming websites as a whole have regained some control over consumers, with sites such as Spotify. Which is a cheap and accessible alternative to piracy, and it is trying to regain even more control with Warner Music making a license deal with SoundCloud. There is no way back from these accessible, cheap, or even free ways to listen to music, but a closer collaboration between streaming sites, labels, and artists themselves would appear to be the way forward.
by Chloe Hashemi