Does the music industry stand a chance against streaming?

By Alaina Perdon

Elm Staff Writer

According to ScreenTime, Spotify is the most heavily used app on my IPhone by a landslide. I relish having a seemingly endless array of songs at my fingertips, creating and sharing custom playlists, and discovering new music through the app’s recommendations.

Simultaneously, its biggest draw and flaw: streaming music is considerably cheaper than buying digital music or physical albums. I pay a whopping $5 each month with a student discount for Spotify’s premium services, and a free version with slightly more limited features is available.

Spotify’s estimates that roughly 217 million individuals share my sentiments, and the number is only growing larger.

In a 2018 article for tech magazine Gizmodo, David Nield criticized the rapid shift to streaming music, and released the staggering statistic that digital music sales dropped almost 25% from the previous year as more people opt for streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music, and Pandora.

Nield argues that this element of music streaming is detrimental to the music industry itself. According to a CNBC report, artists make less than a penny — between $0.006 and $0.0084 — for each stream on Spotify, which pales in comparison to the average income of 10-20% of retail price an artist receives from digital and physical music sales.

Taylor Swift caused major controversy when she pulled music from online streaming services to call attention to this disparity in 2014. Her biggest dispute with music streaming was the free packages offered that allowed anyone to access her work without paying.

“Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for,” Swift said in an op-ed for Wall Street Journal. “It’s my opinion that music should not be free.”

A musician as popular as Taylor Swift should have no issue maintaining her fortune despite the measly profit from streaming services with help from tour revenue and merchandise sales. However, up-and-coming artists are struggling to make their way in the era of streaming.

With less than 1,000 “monthly listeners” on Spotify, it is nearly impossible for aspiring musicians to ever earn enough to make it out of their parents’ garages. Moreover, analysis by professionals indicates the rise of streaming may be altering the culture of music as a whole.

“I really do feel like the flattening and watering down of the experience of musical community and fandom is one of the biggest issues [of streaming],” said Liz Pelly, editor for The Baffler. “We’re in this moment where artists on every level are expected to think this way that, in the past, would have been a way of thinking about artists that are gonna be on the Top 40 radio.”

Pelly asserts that new artists are limited in their creative expression, forced — not by producers but by societal expectation — to create music that fits a specific model, to appease an algorithm that lands them on Spotify’s top charts. She explains that the structure of songs is changing: shorter songs with a chorus at the very beginning are shown to hook more streamers.

I admit I am still a staunch Spotify fanatic. One of my auto-curated “Daily Mixes” is coursing through my headphones as I write this article. But the thought of robbing ambitious new artists of not only the opportunity for financial success, but their own artistic integrity disconcerts me. So how do we save the small songwriters in the era of streaming? Pelly simply recommends paying extra attention to supporting rising bands on platforms outside of our favorite streaming sites. Bandcamp or Soundcloud is an alternative platform where artists directly upload their work and receive direct support from fans. Pelly likens it to the digital-age equivalent of shopping at your local record shop as opposed to stocking up on CDs at Best Buy.

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