So I just read an article on The Verge titled “Can anyone turn streaming music into a real business?” I recommend reading it if you want to follow this post along, but the short of it is that the major streaming music services haven’t become profitable, and in fact are asking labels to reduce the royalties they have to pay. All the while, services from Apple, Google, and Amazon sell music with little profit on the sale, in the hopes that you then buy into more profitable parts of their ecosystem.
Some Facebook friends have spent some time evangelizing Spotify to me in the past, and my reaction has been between hesitant and outright negative. I have an account, and I’ve even connected it to my FB account, but I hardly use it except to maybe check in on charting albums I miss by hipstering myself out of radio. And even that is exceedingly rare, such that I’ve only seriously used it for that purpose twice in the year-and-a-half I’ve had my account.
If I’m as addicted to music as I say, why do I shun these services that promise nearly unlimited music for peanuts, or even nothing? A couple main reasons pop out: I have a now-outdated idea of music collection and listening, and of this, I tend to ignore the charting artists usually flaunted by these services. And, I follow several independent musicians and have a decent idea of their side of these services.
Oddly enough, for someone of my generation, I only buy full albums of music, and I like the idea of having a library of music that is “my own”. Hearing a song at random that I enjoy is usually a spark for wanting to hear more of it. Three to five minutes of whatever genre is generally not enough to satisfy if I’ve taken a liking to it. I’ve found that the 40-60 minute album is the perfect unit of music to consume, and I’m glad musicians, for the most part, still release music like this. I’m also a sucker for a well-arranged album of music that flows from track to track, whether explicitly, as a concept album connects the tracks with the melodies, or implicitly, just by keeping an even sense of upbeat songs versus more downtempo tracks.
(This being the reason I laud Zedd’s album “Clarity”: It’s as much a DJ set as it is an album, connecting tracks like a concept album would in a different genre. It makes more sense in an EDM album, though, because of the sense of being on the floor with the DJ keeping the tempo going.)
I also have awkward criteria for deciding what music I like, so knowing I have two solid weeks of music I know for sure I enjoy is a comforting thought. However, the massive library of Spotify feels a bit daunting; even though the whole world is available, I won’t reach out for it. The massiveness of the catalog available only serves to cheapen the product, like I can’t spend time enjoying this album because I can listen to countless more. In contrast, the limited-but-pointed availability of Pandora exaggerates one of my issues with algorithmic playlists in this style: I know the playlist is being created for me, but I have relatively little control over it. This is compounded by my taste for niche genres and names that Pandora might have trouble filling. I wind up closing the stream after a moment and pulling up the artist whose stream I started in the first place.
Over time on the internet, I’ve liked to keep tabs on artists I enjoy. As a consequence of listening to so many independent musicians, I have an altered perception of music production as a means of income. I follow several musicians who produce music freelance, for example for indie game soundtracks, or even as a hobby that may or may not have taken off, but is something they enjoy anyway. These are the people who band together and form netlabels like Ubiktune, or just scratch out songs at their leisure and self-publish on Bandcamp, about as independent as you get. (e.g. Lapfox Trax, a massive collection of music produced by one person under several aliases. He states that he does music full-time, mostly the releases on that site.)
So what does that have to do with streaming music services? Put bluntly, I’ve seen at least one artist pull their music from Spotify (seen over two tweets) for paying a dismal amount. One artist, the Lapfox link from last paragraph, refuses to publish anywhere but Bandcamp because only BC provides the most freedom for both the producer and the consumer, specifically over artist’s cut, pricing structures, and format availability. These examples give an idea of what these streaming services mean for the artist at this level of independence: The level of income available off Spotify is hardly better than the listener just pirating the tracks in the first place. One link I found listed an example of Spotify’s royalties being between 0.1 and 1.5 cents per play. For an artist that isn’t getting spun as much as a major label will push, that won’t add up to much.
So to sum up my issue with these services? They clash with how I listen to music, they clash with the content I want to listen to, and they clash with how I’d like to support the artists I obsess over. Sure, having these services is a wonderful convenience. On the other hand, if I enjoy the service less than my current music habits, and if the service doesn’t do anything for the artists whose work I gush over, then I’m inclined to say no thanks. I’ll stick with what I’ve got: follow as many musicians on Twitter and YouTube as I can, buy as many albums from iTunes and Bandcamp as I’m willing to afford, and try to gush about my favorite artists and albums to as many people as I can get to listen.