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.