Has Music Streaming Saved The Music Industry?
I remember a while back in 2015 when upgrading my phone contract I was looking for a deal. I needed data. That was essential. Who makes phone calls now? Or send text messages? Messages are sent through apps via your data. So I couldn’t care less about unlimited minutes for phone calls and unlimited text messages. Whilst negotiating with my phone provider I was given a package that included Spotify Premium for 12 months, back then I didn’t care much for this, but since it was thrown in for a little fee of £1 extra a month I thought why not? It was a good deal and I got the right amount of data that I wanted.
24 months later I’m still a Spotify Premium subscriber and I’ve never looked back. The convenience of having an endless catalogue of music at the palm of my hands has changed my life. No longer do I need to store huge amounts of data on my phone, save each file offline, or spend endless amounts of time re-organising my music. If there’s a song in my head, I can easily find it, stream it and play it straight to my phone and on-demand. And it seems like more and more listeners are being converted to subscribing to a music streaming platform. Spotify and Apple Music have achieved about 100 million premium subscribers between them, and the figures keep rising.
With all of these different music streaming platforms available to you, has this new form of consuming music changed the landscape of the music industry for the better? This is what I’ve set out to find out, in this article I’ll take you through the music industry’s ups and downs, it’s battle against piracy and whethr it answers the question, ‘has music streaming saved the music industry?”
Before we begin, just like everything in life it’s good to look back and delve into the history of our subject matter. Just before the 2000’s the music industry was hit hard with piracy, the rise of Napster and the ability to share music between computers had caused music sales to plummet drastically. Illegal downloading of music and piracy had disrupted a thriving business model, it had looked like the music industry as a whole wasn’t going to survive.
On the Reload Podcast I was talking to Kwame Kwaten, and he mentioned how the music industry was hit hard by tech 10 - 20 years before all of this fiasco with Uber and taxi drivers.
“Tech hit the music industry really early... Taxi firms really felt the brunt of it in the last two or three years, when they’re going Uber and such and such, well that’s their equivalent of Napster hitting the music industry… Napster for us was like 2000!”
Piracy was increasing significantly, hardly anyone was buying hard copy CD’s which had put a lot of strain on music companies and even put some out of business. Record labels were hit hard and their revenue figures had dropped 50% lower than what it once was.
Fast forward now to 2017 and the music industry is still standing. What happened exactly? Well the introduction to music streaming happened. When it was first introduced, several people in the industry thought it would be the final step before the demise of the music industry. People couldn’t understand the music streaming model and didn’t understand it’s potential. Now, the industry is on track to recording a profit two years in a row, something that hasn’t happened for over 15 years.
The rise of Stream Ripping.
There is a strong case that the revival of the music industry centres around the popularity of music streaming services. The convenience of streaming has made even leisurely listeners pay attention to the service it provides. The relatively low fee has made it more attractive to stream music rather than illegally download it. However saying that, with the rise of technology and the benefits it provides there is always another side to the coin. ‘Stream-ripping’ has become the latest issue in terms of piracy, there are websites now that are able to download music from most of the popular streaming services.
In comparison to the way Napster and Limewire almost destroyed the industry, I personally doubt that this new trend of ‘stream-ripping’ is going to be as big as a disruption. As I mentioned before, the convenience to stream music rather than having the file stored on your phone is too attractive to go through the process of downloading each song individually. Piracy is an ongoing battle in every creative industry, unfortunately it’s here to stay. It’s really down to the streaming services to make music more readily available, to make piracy a laborious task and put people off from doing it.
How a stream counts to the billboards.
Too many of us now are consuming music through streaming services that billboard charts had to pay attention to it. As it stands 150 streams of one song equates to one sale, and 10 sales equates to one album sale. That means you’re going to need about 1.5 billion streams in order to get your album to go platinum. That’s quite a tall order right? Kanye West's latest album, ‘The Life of Pablo’ became the first album to attain platinum level from just streaming alone. It’s quite an accomplishment. Even Chance The Rapper attained a noble feat when he released his free mixtape, “Colouring Book” and made it only available via streaming platforms. Not only did it make it into the billboard charts, he also won a Grammy for the ‘Best Album’ on the top of it. Keep in mind he did all of this without selling one physical copy of his mixtape (and without the backing of a label.)
A Streaming Playlist.
Quite a few labels have realised the potential of streaming that they’ve created a new job role, “the playlist pluggers”. Similar to the way radio pluggers used to have a say with what music would feature on the radio, organisations have created a similar role for streaming services. Playlists have become a very popular tool to getting your music heard on streaming platforms, if you manage to get your song on a popular playlist it could make you an overnight sensation. So make sure you’re getting your music on a variety of different playlists! I know a lot of the time I come across new music through the use of different curated playlists.
The issues with Spotify’s business model - What’s the future?
With all the benefits that streaming services have provided, it’s hard to believe that Spotify has yet to make a profit since the start of the company. Whilst Spotify can now boast of up to 140 million users on their platform and bring in up to $3 billion of revenue, their financial reports have constantly been in the red. People question the business model of Spotify and whether if it’s going to work out. With Spotify being the lead streaming platform for music, it’ll be a big blow to the music industry if they were to disappear. Will another company step in to replace it? Can Spotify figure out a way to start generating profit? Only time will tell. For now though, Spotify along with the other streaming platforms has significantly helped the music industry to where it is now. Not only has it helped big record labels, but it has also empowered small independent artists and have given the power to them, Chance the Rapper being a prime example.
Spotify and other music streaming platforms have definitely made a great impact to the music industry. It has brought revival to a lacklustre industry that was on it’s way out and becoming obsolete. It’s only a matter of time that new tech will shake up the industry again and force it to adapt to a new age. For now though the music industry can take a breather and revel in their profits. One thing for sure is that I plan to upgrade my phone contract and get more data. Who knows how much I’ll need to comfortably stream music on the go in the future.