Streaming: Musician’s friend or industry foe?

It’s no secret that streaming technologies are disrupting and dividing the music industry. But is it a clever way to get aspiring artists in front of a new audience, or are they robbing artists and labels of potential revenue? Whether you agree with Taylor Swift and believe music should be paid for, or your days begin and end with Spotify, we can all agree that the music industry will never be the same.

Consumers – myself included – love streaming music. It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s everywhere, and you don’t even need to pay for it. Streaming pioneers like Pandora and Spotify have steadily continued to grow their user base and increase their revenue. Two years after its launch in 2008, Spotify had approximately 10 million users, of which only 2.5 million paid for a subscription. As of June 2015, Spotify boasts more than 75 million active users and over 20 million pay for their premium option. As these streaming services grow in popularity, big tech companies have taken note; – Apple, Google and Amazon have all launched music streaming initiatives over the past few years in an attempt to get in on the action.

So it’s undeniable; streaming is here and it’s here to stay. The question is no longer whether or not streaming will go mainstream (it already has); the question is whether or not it’s benefitting or damaging the music industry.

From a consumer’s perspective, of course, it’s a good thing. It’s easier today than ever before to listen to your favorite songs and grow your music library. Exposure to new music is one of the best things to come out of the streaming revolution. Users can proactively search for new artists via top charts and public playlists, but streaming services also personalize the process by recommending songs and musicians their customers might enjoy based on their user history.

It seems to me like this two-way-street of exposure is the biggest benefit to artists. With more people turning to streaming services as their preferred listening method, many artists are leveraging these sites as tools to help them connect with their audience and grow their fan base. Streaming has the support of musicians like Diplo and Skrillex, as well as the Featured Artists Coalition (FAC). It gives artists access to an audience they wouldn’t have otherwise reached.

So while it’s clear that music streaming has won over the hearts of the consumers, and quite a few musicians as well, that doesn’t mean it isn’t still a controversial technology. Labels fear a decrease in sales and a loss of customers, subsequently making it increasingly difficult for them to source and shape new talent. Musicians share many of the same fears and believe that they aren’t being fairly compensated for their work. In 2014, Taylor Swift removed all of her music from Spotify and other streaming services, simply stating: “Valuable things should be paid for.”

Spotify would argue that with the option of free streaming, they are helping put an end to piracy and illegal downloads which provide 0% return for the artists and labels and could well have killed the music industry entirely. What the free streaming does do, however, is steal the casual customers, the people who don’t spend more than £5 a month on songs. With the allure of free music, these purchasers become streamers.

For better or for worse, disruption is valuable in every industry and a little opposition can often inspire innovation. Music streaming isn’t going anywhere so it’s up to the industry to find ways to entice consumers to buy tracks and adapts to the streaming age.

McKinley Siegfired, Intern, Technology Team