Is streaming the final destination?

by Hannah Thacker

The future of the music industry has always been a varied and hot topic, but in recent years the subject of physical ownership versus digital streaming has taken centre stage as many within the business pick a side whilst some of us are left in the middle wondering why we can’t all just get along. Throughout this article we’ll explore this topic via a range of existing information, expert opinions from a handful of our users, and even a university bachelor paper, all in the hope to find an answer to this nearly unanswerable question - is streaming really the music industry’s final destination?

Nothing stays the same. The world is an ever-evolving place and so is the music bizz.
Tiffany Devos, Indiestyle

One of the most potent sources of information on the subject comes from IFPI’s Digital Music Report 2015, which led to Edgar Berger (Chairman & CEO International of Sony Music Entertainment) to claim that “The industry has shifted from an ownership model to access. I've not met anyone who can see beyond streaming. So this looks like a final destination.” However, this spokesperson’s certainty does not mean that the road to total digitalisation will be smooth or be greeted with open arms. Currently, the crux of music streaming depends on giving musicians a raw deal; for example, Spotify pays out a pittance of between $0.006 to $0.0084 per stream, Deezer provides an artist revenue of around $0.013 per play, and at Tidal an artist can expect a slightly more respectable $0.043 per play (statistics via The Guardian.) It’s a fact that streaming pays peanuts, which is almost okay if you’re a highly popular artist who is guaranteed thousands of single plays, like those lucky 0.5% who receive the minimum wage via YouTube, but the same cannot be said for artists who are just starting out. What IFPI’s report wanted to show is that streaming can be a sustainable way for everyone in the music industry to make some money, not just those at the top of the food chain, because like Jarri Van der Haegen (Disco Naiveté) so rightly points out “Music is still a business, and a business needs to be healthy.” The report even has it’s own terminology for this streaming shortfall - the ‘value gap’ - but the solution it offers is a lot less snappy than that soundbite, because it simply reflects what everyone else is already saying; we need fairer economic distribution. Unfortunately, the route to this utopian solution has yet to be forged, and no one really knows where to start.

You could argue the cost of music was an over-inflated fee before, at least streaming could become fairer, but the streaming rate offered currently doesn’t feed enough people at the table.
Rick Moreno, Duly Noted Records

Much of the attention so far has been on creating a sustainable relationship between streaming services and musicians, but what about other integral parts of the industry, such as record labels? Increasingly, major labels have been removing their catalogues from sites that offer a free streaming option, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. One example is Sony who no longer allow their artists to host music on SoundCloud, an issue which the HH community recently delved into in the comments section of one Sony-signed band. For independent labels, on the other hand, it’s a different story, because for the acts on their rosters it’s important to cultivate and maintain an online fanbase who will go on the support them by buying an album or gig ticket in the future. At least, that’s a sentiment shared by Neon Gold, Cascine and Mom+Pop in a discussion they had for Pigeons & Planes, “How is music streaming affecting indie labels?” However, even these advocates of streaming who do see its benefits still hold their reservations, as displayed by Julia Willinger’s (VP and A&R of Mom+Pop) comment, “I wish more people would realize music is worth money and should be consumed in ways that forms of art still seem to be.” Many of us lust after this ideal, and understandably record labels are going to want to protect themselves from today’s free culture, but is sticking our heads in the sand and holding out for a resolution the right approach? According to one former Unrecorded editor, Jorge Mir, we need to start facing the harsh reality of what’s to come:

It’s hard to predict what the final destination for the music business is, but streaming seems like a reasonable guess as it is the most convenient for the average consumer despite being problematic for nearly everyone else. My guess is that a few years from now the streaming model will end up being entirely free, as that is what is in demand by consumers. Without that revenue stream artists are likely to see labels as increasingly unnecessary and there will be a fundamental change in the way the business operates.
Jorge Mir, former Unrecorded

As mentioned in the last paragraph, the hope is that fan support via streaming will translate into sales of music, gig tickets and merchandise, but there’s no guarantee there. An increasingly common feature of these digital services is the ability to listen to music offline and therefore have your music library staples and latest must-listens with you wherever you go; this means that music is more portable than ever, which no one can deny is a good thing, but to every silver lining there’s that cloud. In this instance, we should be mourning the loss of a physical relationship between listener and music. Let’s take the highly popular service that Spotify provides as an example, “Spotify boasts a catalog of over 20 million songs that you can browse by artist, genre, album, or just search for a specific track, tons of complete albums to listen to in both its free and paid versions, the option to make and share playlists for every mood, event, or whim you may have, scrobbling to Last.fm, and internet radio based on artist, genre, or mood that lets you sit back and do other things while Spotify finds songs you’ll like.” It’s possibly this laidback, convenience-over-love attitude that has seen many high profile celebrities strike back with a removal of certain albums, such as Taylor Swift with 1989 and Jay Z with Reasonable Doubt. No one wants to be background music.

Yes, I see streaming as the end of the line. You can take different paths to get there, but it is the terminus.
Mattia Villa, Going Solo

On the flip side, there’s an argument that this casual style of listening existed long before streaming and is even considered to be a traditional part of the music industry - of course, we’re talking about radio. It’s a link which digital services are trying to maintain with their own radio-esque programmes, perhaps as a form of self-validation or to make themselves appear less corporate. Obviously, a major difference with this newer type of radio is that our point of access is now the internet, which has been demonized by many as the root of music ownership’s demise. One of our favourite quotees David Byrne took to The Guardian a couple of years ago with the hard-lined statement, “The internet will suck all creative content out of the world.” At first, this appears to be call for the disbandment of the world wide web, but his real concern is that creativity will no longer exist as a physicality, instead art has been reduced to a perfectly filtered photograph, literature to 140 characters and music to a stream of digital data being pumped out of below-average laptop and phone speakers. One of our contributors, Ben Ruauld, who runs music blog Sodwee, is no stranger to streaming but his fervent passion for physical music has not been dampened by the internet world either. His argument for “a quasi-natural listening experience of music in our everyday lives” is also a sound one, as he suggests it’s okay to listen to music online as long as we don’t lose sight of the unique experience that handling our purchases can have. It’s not only about supporting your favourite artists, but also about discovering your own tastes and connecting with others through that special record or your first CD or an inherited cassette.

...where's the fun in unlocking one mammoth iron gate and suddenly be able to hear/stream every single (or a vast majority) of today's modern music? One needs hurdles and dead ends, to forge the future taste and curate their own music library.
Ben Ruauld, Sodwee

There are those who are trying to preserve the ownership model that dominated much of the 20th century. One stand-out figure is Bandcamp’s co-founder Ethan Diamond who addressed the topic of access vs. ownership at XOXO Festival in 2014. As you’ll see from the video, a rather nervous Diamond begins his measured debate for why we need to be wary of streaming: “I think that listening to a song ten thousand times while you’re trying to ignore an ad for toothpaste or whatever is not a particularly good way to support an artist, and neither is paying a subscription fee once a month to a multi-billion dollar corporation that’s partially owned by other multi-billion dollar corporations, the major labels, and just crossing your fingers that they’re going to distribute your money to artists fairly.” He goes onto explain that it’s not only the artists and smaller labels that are losing out, but music fans are too, because a major risk of subscription-based streaming is “losing something that’s culturally important, and that’s the idea of a music collection.” His solution to the problem is obviously Bandcamp’s collections feature, which can be shared with and browsed by other users, and thus providing a virtual sense of rifling through someone’s record, CD or cassette library. It’s a decent compromise, but there are those who believe we can use the internet to do even better. This is where the advocates of vinyl records step in, such as Turntable Kitchen and Flying Vinyl, who use their online presence to encourage wax lovers to subscribe to a monthly delivery of curated vinyl picks. Flying Vinyl’s founder Craig Evans offers one motive behind the recent call-to-action for the protection of this established format in an interview with Exeposé, in which he blames “generations of music listeners who maybe see music as something that’s disposable and to be consumed through earplug headphones, walking around, or in their car,” but Evans also implies that through the masses has emerged “a core of true music enthusiasts who are trying vinyl for the first time and getting a far more interactive, intimate and engaging experience” than those who solely use streaming as a way to discover music. Within HumanHuman’s own music-obsessed community, there does seem to be a general consensus that nothing can quite replace the feeling of owning a piece of music, but even those who are willing to spend their hard-earned cash on records can’t buy them all. Free listening takes the elitism of music away, so people who don’t have money to burn aren’t excluded from an essential part of our culture, and like one of our contributors puts it:

Streaming services offer an alternative that gives you the possibility to discover all these records without having to download them illegally.
Thomas Konings, Indiestyle

The reduction of music piracy stands as streaming’s main defence, as receiving miniscule royalties is surely better than having your music bootlegged and spread across the internet without restrictions. One commentator on the industry’s darkest piracy days in the late 1990s, Stephen Witt, provides an example of how streaming has helped to combat illegal downloads, “Consumer research showed that new Spotify subscribers stopped pirating more or less completely,” but that’s not without consequence, as the same subscribers “stopped buying albums.” (How Music Got Free, p. 261) It’s no secret that in the wake of music’s digitalization record labels and musicians alike have had to diversify in order to secure some sort of financial future for an industry that is now much smaller and more vulnerable than it once was.

Artwork by Martha Verschaffel

Putting aside much of the pessimism that this discussion has so far yielded, there is one area of the music biz that appears to have stayed strong - live shows. Even mp3 obsessive Stephen Witt makes note of this modern exception, “In 2011, for the first time since the invention of the phonograph, Americans spent more money of live music than recorded.” (p.260) That’s because no matter how many music videos or live session recordings you may watch (and re-watch), nothing compares to the intoxicating atmosphere of imperfection, reality and that “oh my god, there they are!” feeling that a live gig can entice. Sure, you don’t always have the guarantee that everything will run as smoothly as a stream of data and it takes a lot more time and effort than clicking play on a YouTube or Vevo video, but it’s exactly for those reasons that concerts have remained so important. The prevalence of gigs, and in particular tours, has also been a recurring opinion amongst our contributors, but rather than seeing this trend as exclusive from the internet, they believe that streaming can help support ticket sales. As Yne Van De Mergel (writer for Concert Nieuws) suggests “I think streaming is important because it supports the artist, it can help them reach more people in ways they weren’t able to at all in the past,” as prior to the existence of online music platforms, an artist or band’s initial fan-base would have been limited by geography. In theory, streaming services help artists to connect to a global audience and even speed up their success. As Stephen Archibald highlights, “Touring is still the big revenue generator for artists and streaming maximizes accessibility in a way traditional record sales couldn't, leading to more potential ticket sales.” So, it’s not all bad news for musicians who continue to share their music via streaming services, but the sustainability of this current model is still under scrutiny and the question we have yet to answer is, where do we go from here?

For me, nothing beats the feeling and energy created by a live performance, and tours are a huge financial factor in artists' careers.
Kat Anasa, Anasa Music

In an attempt to come to some sort of conclusion, we’re turning to the findings of HH user Free Anckaert whose university bachelor paper, ‘Music In Perspective’, questions three types of industry professional - the blogger, the radio presenter, and the musician - to gage where streaming is heading and what needs to change before we reach a potential terminus. We’ll start with someone who has already shared an opinion with us, Jarri Van der Haegen, who runs leading music blog Disco Naïveté. From his perspective streaming is a great way to discover new talent, but if a blogger wants to write about an emerging artist, then they must choose their song embed wisely: “If I would use a Spotify embed each time, then maybe half of my readers, or even less, would be able to listen to that track, unless they create a Spotify account, and as a blogger I always try to keep the threshold as low as possible to listen to a track. [...] If they have to create an account somewhere, I am afraid they won’t listen at all, so I always try to use SoundCloud, Bandcamp, YouTube; all services for which you don’t need an account to listen to music.” It has been generally agreed that the most user-friendly service will be the one that dominates, and although sites like SoundCloud and YouTube enable instant access without signing-up or a monthly fee, many believe that the goliath service Spotify has already captured so much of the market. However, Spotify does have its weaknesses, as Jarri points out, the service is run by an army of anonymous employees, but “it’s not unimportant to put a face on the person who suggests music to you.” One individual who understands this more than most is radio host at Studio Brussel and curator at 22tracks Koen Galle (AKA DJ Kong), “Radio has long since been a steadfast medium, a kind of guidance for the listener [...] who simply gets good music and personalities who guide them throughout the day.” Koen also implies that current listener numbers prove that radio is here to stay, but with the emergence of programmes like Zane Lowe’s Beats 1 for Apple Music, it looks like traditional radio’s place isn’t quite so secure. Despite the apparently unstoppable takeover of streaming in many key areas of the music industry, and the overall consensus that few other existing options could compete with the likes of Spotify, Tidal, Apple Music, SoundCloud etc., there is still a feeling of resentment towards the access-all-areas model and penny pay-outs that these current streaming services endorse. Free’s talk with Johannes Genard (frontman of Belgium band School Is Cool) sheds some light on the topic from a musician’s point of view. Whilst Johannes appreciates that subscription packages “creates a sort of ethical conscience that you have to pay for music,” the reality is not so warm-hearted as artists do not receive a fair cut of the profits generated by said subscription services. Unless things change, there is a possibility that even more acts will follow in the footsteps of Taylor Swift and Jay Z taking “their music offline as some kind of protest” to ultimately force the hands of the corporate owners in order to improve artist's royalties, and as Johannes suggests, this could even happen as a mass strike. Hopefully, we are not yet at a point where such extreme action needs to be taken and that isn’t just because “the financial model still hasn’t completely taken shape” (Koen Galle), but also because allowing your music to be streamed is an extremely powerful form of self-promotion. Like top blogger Jarri puts it, “it’s most important to just make your music available and create a fanbase in your own way and try to connect those people to you. Eventually, when you play a gig, have vinyl or other merchandise, your fans will buy, because those people are fans. They know your music and really will want to invest in you.” In this sense, streaming should be seen as an investment and not as a final destination.

We’ve weighed up the pros, cons and everything that’s in between in order to find out whether Edgar Berger was right after all and we’ve already reached the end of the line in terms of how we access music. What has become evident is that our listening habits have changed, and changed for good, and now we’re waking up to a generation of emerging music fans who don’t just take instant access for granted, but simply don’t know any better. All of the criticism towards and resistance against streaming isn’t necessarily because streaming is an awful concept, in fact many of us now use these services on a daily basis, but because we are trying to secure a future where musicians, listeners, playlist curators, record label owners and all other forms of industry professionals receive a fair deal when it comes to streaming. If it is going to be our last stop, then at least let’s make it a place we actually want to stay in.


Contributions

Rick Moreno

Duly Noted Records

Is streaming really the music industry’s final destination?

The only way back is if we realise in time that the industry are unhappy to share 0.007p a play amongst the various involved parties. Maybe that could cause a problems? The labels do separate deals yearly with those streaming companies so could easily changes things up. You could argue the cost of music was an over-inflated fee before, at least streaming could become fairer, but the streaming rate offered currently doesn’t feed enough people at the table.

Ben Ruauld

Sodwee

Is streaming really the music industry’s final destination?

I hope not. I really hope there's plenty more innovation in that field left to dig deeper into. I believe the closer we get to a quasi-natural listening experience of music in our everyday lives, the better it will be. How well and how seamlessly do the tools and services we will use, come to blend into our natural music playing / listening habits will play a major part in how good that “transition” occurs. And, as a result dictate the way we consume the music. I do not believe we have reached the industry's final destination. I have seen the pros, the cons of the streaming model. Although undeniably practical, easily accessible and with a wider choice on offer by the day, I am a fervent defender of physically managing a personal music library, whether it be sitting as a CD, a vinyl or a cassette on a shelf, or getting to know every single mp3 I went the “extra-mile” to find/purchase/download and go to great lengths in storing that piece of binary pleasure very near you. Digging it up proudly, on a whim, when a friend asks for that special 1999 recording of an obscure artist. A habit that is not that far away from the “physical formats” era when you think about it.

I believe having access to all the music at once takes the fun out of getting to know what you like the most in music. As I said, it's undeniably practical, easily accessible, and offers a wide range of choice for the end user, but where's the fun in unlocking one mammoth iron gate and suddenly be able to hear/stream every single (or a vast majority) of today's modern music? One needs hurdles and dead ends, to forge the future taste and curate their own music library. I really like the fact that any given pre-Streaming era music enthusiast had some, pretty deep and personal connection with the music they ended up listening, how one might have discovered such or such artist, grown fond a specific genre, and is able to tell you on which day, where, with whom and why he came to know about such track/artist/album/genre etc... The kind of connection with music you can't really materialize when, well, everything is already waiting for you, behind that iron gate and up there in the clouds. I especially like the fact that everyone will have had a different journey, taken different roads to his/hers musical knowledge and would have had a few bad apples on that rocky path whilst hunting / gathering for their personal music library. Stumbled across bands, artists, and acts they wished they'd never seen is also part of the process and forges a taste for music in people… That kind of story behind someone's musical education is the essence of what is interesting with music.

Here's quote from the same IFPI - 2015 report by Francis Keeling (Universal Music Group - Global Head of Digital Business) I think stood out for me, and applies really darn well, to the HumanHuman community : “It’s all about curation, recommendation and influence.”

Tiffany Devos

Indiestyle

Is streaming really the music industry’s final destination?

Nothing stays the same. The world is an ever-evolving place and so is the music bizz.

For a moment in time we thought the cd was all we’d ever want. We never know what someone will come up with next. So no, streaming is not the endgame. For the near future though, streaming is what we’re stuck with. The only factor that could stop it from becoming the way we all listen to music are artists and labels themselves. They could decide to pull their stuff from the services or host exclusive album streams. People won’t pay for music services not holding a considerable catalogue or for several music services at once. But are artists really against music streaming? Revenues sure as hell don’t come from album sales anymore. And everything’s better than illegal downloads, right?

Yne Van De Mergel

Concert News

Is streaming really the music industry’s final destination?

I do think music streaming is the industry’s final destination, yes. I just think the Internet has significantly changed the way we obtain and process information and it makes it so easy for people to access everything freely (like Berger said). As someone who loves music, I feel obliged to reward the artist for their work and buy physical copies, merchandise and stuff, but not everyone feels that way. Getting rid of streaming would not improve the artist’s popularity at all in my opinion, it would be the opposite. (TSwift being the exception here because she had the world at her feet already before removing her music from Spotify).

I think the majority of people who stream music do it out of laziness, they've grown to think streaming is a basic human right or something, mostly because they don’t really feel a connection with the music they listen to. They don’t feel like they have to pay for the content they get. Which is sad, but it’s today's truth. In an age where everyone has become somehow dependent on the Internet, there’s just no getting away from that. People can find and do everything online so why would they go to a CD /record store and buy actual records?

Then there’s the people like you and me, who realise how much effort and emotion goes into a song and we’re genuinely moved by it. I think that is the main difference, that is why we decide to contribute and pay for it in one way or another. I think streaming is important because it supports the artist, it can help them reach more people in ways they weren’t able to at all in the past. So when you look at it that way, it’s definitely a good thing for this industry. In the past, popularity was rather limited geographically, whereas now there's literally at least one fan per band in just about every country in the world. And that opens doors for them I think. Some of the (independent) musicians I follow express their surprise whenever someone from the Philippines or a country I can't remember the name of tweets them saying they love their music. And then a year and a half later they get to play a show there because that one person told their friends and they told their friends and so on. Isn't that what music is all about? Sharing the experience with other people? Whether it's fans with each other or the artist with the fans. I think that's beautiful and I think the essence of it all is lost in today's world where everyone is after money. I do get that they need to make a living for themselves, though, but the only way artists are going to find people in the first place, is by having an online presence. The first (crucial) step is getting to know the artist and getting to hear their music, again, through the Internet. And the only way they're going to find those people who are willing to spend the money they worked hard for on a Tshirt or an overpriced album bundle or a gig ticket, is through the internet. And if that means that they have to make their album or EP available for free streaming then I think they shouldn’t say no to that. So in that way, ultimately there’s no getting away from streaming.

Mattia Villa

Going Solo

Is streaming really the music industry’s final destination?

Yes, I see streaming as the end of the line. You can take different paths to get there, but it is the terminus. I believe that the main future goals will be two: the first will be to make the streaming services even more user friendly and easy to use, while the second will be to make sure that a greater number of users - if not all - pay to use the services. All the players involved in this business (streaming companies, labels, artists, independents' digital rights organisations, etc..) will focus their efforts especially on the latter, since it is common interest to make sure that this happens as soon as possible.

Stephen Archibald

Jumping the Shark PR and Crack in the Road

Is streaming really the music industry’s final destination?

Streaming will certainly be the most viable option for the foreseeable future, but not in it's current form. Spotify and Soundcloud are seeing substantial losses and aren't exactly running on a sustainable long-term business plan. It seems to be the focus of the major labels to monetize these platforms with Sony pulling all of their artists from the latter. But in the case of Soundcloud, the inclusion of ads and stringent licensing policies may isolate the demographic that the platform nurtured in its early stages. The problems for these streaming services are hopefully just growing pains. It'll be interesting to see if Spotify introduce a Soundcloud-esque upload feature, which would open up the platform to new artists and supporters of underground music like us bloggers.

Touring is still the big revenue generator for artists and streaming maximizes accessibility in a way traditional record sales couldn't, leading to more potential ticket sales. This is for sure a huge plus on streaming's behalf so the medium looks to be the final destination for at least the next 10 years, until someone somewhere invents the next crazy way we all listen to music.

Free Anckaert

Studio Brussel, Urgent.fm and Tumult.fm

Is streaming really the music industry’s final destination?

Special thanks to Free Anckaert for donating his university bachelor paper 'Music In Perspective', in which he considers the future of the streaming market with Jarri Van der Haegen, Koen Galle and Johannes Genard.

Jorge Mir

former editor at Unrecorded

Is streaming really the music industry’s final destination?

It’s hard to predict what the final destination for the music business is, but streaming seems like a reasonable guess as it is the most convenient for the average consumer despite being problematic for nearly everyone else. My guess is that a few years from now the streaming model will end up being entirely free, as that is what is in demand by consumers. Without that revenue stream artists are likely to see labels as increasingly unnecessary and there will be a fundamental change in the way the business operates.

Thomas Konings

Indiestyle

Is streaming really the music industry’s final destination?

I’m not sure if streaming is the final destination of music’s industry and I actually don’t know if there is or should be a final destination. I use different listening methods in different circumstances and for different reasons and that’s why I think all these options can exist next to each other. I do believe streaming will increasingly become popular and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. There are so many new records every week and you can’t buy them all. Streaming services offer an alternative that gives you the possibility to discover all these records without having to download them illegally. Moreover I prefer ~actual~ streaming services over sites like YouTube and SoundCloud because they pay more royalties.

Jarri Van der Haegen

Disco Naïveté

Is streaming really the music industry’s final destination?

For now, streaming is the final destination. We've reached a point in time where it's impossible to think of music without the possibility of streaming, especially as the listener/consumer's behavior has changed from ownership to access. Even Apple, one of the most important vendors of music, has switched to this model by introducing Apple Music. I can't think ahead of this model, and if I could I would probably be making that right now, haha.

I do believe that streaming as it is today has to change, as this model isn't going to work forever.

From the side of the artist, there needs to be more transparency and more revenue. The cents per stream that today's streaming services offer are just cents, and everyone needs to get their cut from it which leaves everyone with practically nothing at all. Music is still a business, and a business needs to be healthy. From the side of the consumer, there needs to be some sort of realization that music cannot be free and a basic monthly/yearly/… a fee is required to support the artists and keep the industry alive and support artists from all levels. Surely there will always be piracy, but I do believe (or rather hope) that people will pay to gain access to all music, because the current getting something for nothing situation just isn't right.

Kat Anasa

Anasa Music

Is streaming really the music industry’s final destination?

Streaming has an undoubtedly influential role within the music industry, which is becoming more and more apparent through the introduction of Apple Music and with Soundcloud confirming their move towards paid subscriptions. But I don't think it necessarily makes streaming a final destination. For me, nothing beats the feeling and energy created by a live performance, and tours are a huge financial factor in artists' careers.

This article is written by Hannah Thacker and was published 3 years ago.

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