‘Home Streaming is killing music’ – And the solution is hard to stomach

‘Home Streaming is killing music’ – And the solution is hard to stomach

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You know it’s true, no amount of artist-run, user-friendly services or attention-grabbing headlines are going to help the vacuum that has reached the music industry in a completely legal way.

Some real life Stats

The band I work with put up their latest EP on Spotify. The listening response we got for it is awesome. We had just over 600 plays of our five-track EP in just under five months. We earned $0.83 from it – £0.53. That equates to 0.008p per EP (six tracks) compared to the £5 we sell it for at gigs.

In the same amount of time, we had around 1700 plays on Soundcloud and around 450 on Bandcamp – both without royalties and no sales via Bandcamp. This also doesn’t include the stats from the other services we have streaming the EP. We won’t pull the songs off these sites and services because sharing music (for promotion) is better than not. It’s frustrating to hit a brick wall with music you love because the artist can’t afford/is unwilling to share it in this way.

A Little history

Napster struck fear into the hearts of the music industry, and the internet revolution devastated it. However, everyone who pirated music knew in the back of their minds that what they were doing was wrong and they knew it was illegal. They knew if that they really loved the artist they were listening to, and wanted to support them, they would buy their music, go to their concerts, and buy their overpriced merchandise. This gave artists hope, that despite waning multi-million record sales from the mass market, they still had dedicated fans who would keep them afloat.

Then dedicated streaming platforms emerged. First in the form of early low-res players such as Winamp’s pirate radio equivalent “SHOUTcast” and the legal follow-up “LAUNCHcast” (bought by Yahoo! in 2001) which, although popular on the internet, never crossed over to mainstream usage. YouTube followed with slightly better quality, but still with an undercurrent of illegality (unless they were ad-funded official videos).

Why streaming is hurting the industry more than pirating, and why mainstream record labels are still as horrible as ever.

Then came Spotify, the client based, legitimate tool. It paid royalties to the artists, so it was the first viable, high-res system that was either ad or subscriber supported. This took away the guilt that came with pirating, and so allowed not only the “everything for free” culture to seem acceptable, but also brought it crashing into the mainstream.

As for record companies, their tactic around this new era was to take advantage of what was still making money. Whilst the recession took hold in the mid-2000s, the concert industry boomed. More music that was easily accessible via the internet meant more people wanted to go to the concerts of the artists they could listen to. This meant more money was going to the artists via their live appearances than it would from their releases.

The surprisingly insightful documentary “Artifact” (on 30 Seconds To Mars no less) highlights the industry’s new way of making money from this: the “360 contract.” No longer seeing the profit they acquired by record sales alone, all new contracts made with artists now encompassed their merchandise sales and touring profit, weakening the creative control and ownership artists have over their music.

So what is there to do?

Stay independent.  The next step for artists looking to turn their passion into a job was to get signed. It used to mean allowing record labels to control your image a little, send you out on press tours relentlessly to promote an album, and maybe feeling a little pinched in your creative control and recording budget.

Now it means the following: almost no money from your record sales, touring and merchandise; no real creative control over your record, your tour and your merchandise, and the ability for a record label to sell the music you put so much work into to corporations and advertisers to use in whatever capacity they want to, without you seeing much of the profit from it.

The thing that broke the record industry will ultimately be the thing that saves it. The internet is a tool, if used correctly, will bring what you recorded in your room, your community centre or your local shabby recording studio to the world, without the shipping cost. There’s no way you would’ve heard about your favourite tiny overseas band or artist without it. Before the internet really helped make indie music mainstream, we had TV shows like “The O.C.” to thank.

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What else?

Sell out.  You’re never going to pay your rent as an indie artist. There’s no way. You have to work a job that’s going to be your off-peak fallback. There’s no deal in the world now that’s going to help your one-hit wonder support you for the rest of your life.  You’ll tour into the ground and you’ll just earn enough to make it worth it, and then that’s only if you’re big enough to sell out all your shows.

Who’s got money? Advertisers.

P.O.S., a Minneapolis-based rapper, part of the Doomtree collective, and signed to independent label Rhymesayers Entertainment has recently had one of his songs featured in an Adidas advert. There were rumblings of dissatisfaction amongst his fans due to his anarchist politics in his life and his music. He posted to reddit a response as to why he (and producer Lazerbeak) felt that they could – and should – allow their song to be used.

Here’s some of what he said:

Licensing songs for advertisements in the world of Spotify/Apple Music/Tidal and the like, is kind of key. Simply put, it’s hard to sell enough music to be an underground adult musician.

For every die-hard Doomtree/Rhymesayers fan that will spend money on a record, there are 50 more casual fans that will stream it for free. The easier music is to acquire for free, the harder it is to make a living on selling your songs…

…I think it’s a cool add [sic] as far as adds [sic] go, and here I am explaining myself, so that’s a good sign for me and my two kids, Lazerbeak and his three kids and the potential for another few months of rent worry free…

… Anarchist values taken in full consideration we live in money world and eating is needed almost every day.”

What can I do?

Buy music. Go to shows. Buy merch. Support your local scene. Support your local record stores. Stop streaming because it’s convenient; own something physical. Have passion in music because as much as you might hate the mainstream music you hear on the radio, that’s where the money is. Put your negative energy aside and use some of your hard earned cash to fund the music you do like. Be a part of what you love by committing to it, not by making it part of the background.

Hitting shuffle on Spotify is less than 1% of the feeling you get when you sit down and listen to an album in full, on CD or vinyl, bought from your local independent store or out of the hands of the artist at a show.  Care more, because when the music you love stops being made, it’ll be your fault.

Originally published here:
http://fearandloathingblog.tumblr.com/

Illustration by Brad Jonas here: www.pando.com/2015/06/12/is-spotify-doomed-because-of-apple-music-no-spotifys-been-doomed-from-the-start

9 thoughts on “‘Home Streaming is killing music’ – And the solution is hard to stomach

  1. Looks like a good read. One quick thing before I finish reading…

    “However, everyone who pirated music knew in the back of their minds that what they were doing was wrong and they knew it was illegal.” is something I take issue with. I have always (and do to this day) make a point of buying music – whether in shops, on bandcamp (often even when available free) or at gigs. But I have never regarded taping the odd album I wasn’t going to buy off a mate as wrong (especially as if often leads to buying it anyway). I have never regarded it as wrong that I have loads of tapes of random individual songs recorded late night off John Peel, many of which lead to me buying things, many of which didn’t (but I would never have bought anything by the band anyway).

    The fact I own the best part of a 20 bootlegged Telescopes gigs on tape is related to the fact that I have bought nearly every record they have ever released, not an indication that a bit of piracy is what stopped me buying the one or two releases I am missing.

    I am not saying that I am perfect, but I am saying I have done some limited pirating in the past and I don’t think I have done anything wrong or harmed musicians. I also appreciate that the point was probably not an accustion at people like me.

  2. P.O.S. – I have mixed feelings about his words – bands should try to live to very high ethical standards, but then again we live in this capitalist world and you have to make some money.

    I find it astonishing that people use spotify. I find it unacceptably slow (something I rarely find with other sites, so it isn’t my connection), and if you tell it you like MBV it forces shit like Rise and Slowdive on you. Plus it exploits artists.

    Youtube and bandcamp are very useful for checking stuff out quickly.

    IMHO musicians should play gigs and flog stuff on bandcamp… do it for the fun of it, and hopefully make a few pennies. Put music on spotify only if your major label insists, or because you are someone who wishes to be treated like Kunt and the Gang sang about in the Nick Clegg Story, or – perhaps – as a very short-term thing to gain exposure, before coming off again to make money.

    Maybe I’m weird but I really don’t get why anyone would hit shuffle on a iPod either, when it is much better to just press play on an artist or album that you actually want to listen to. Apart from playing shuffle on a dinner party playlist I probably use shuffle once a decade or less. Spotify is like shuffle only it plays shit you don’t like, not simply shit you don’t want to listen to right now.

  3. And another thing. Will the music die, or is it more likely that not paying musicians will lead to a situation where you increasingly have a choice of local pub or wembley arena with less in between? Is this a problem – Wembley for all the arseholes who like mainstream shit and horrid sound quality, and more intimate gigs for the rest of us. There does not appear to be a shortage of people will to spend money buying instruments, rehearsing and getting themselves to venues with no expectation of even getting a pint out of the promoter, let alone cash.

    Is it not possible that a big chunk of the benefits from music come when you are participating? Is listening to a record really that special compared to being 2 ft from the guitarist’s pedalboard in the back room of a pub, or being on that stage in front of 6 people yourself?

    Is it not possible that the idea of making money from “playing” (something we would all like to do, though personally I’d rather make money from playing spider solitaire or with myself than going to the effort of playing an instrument) on records is actually a weird 20th century idea that was inconceivable before the invention of one bit of technology (records) and as inconceivable after the invention of another (the internet)?

    I for one increasingly find my time spent either listening to the all time greats (Black Flag, Spacemen 3, Melvins, Telescopes) or local bands in the back rooms of venues I can walk to… with little in between. Is this a problem?

  4. Nothing at all, maybe there isn’t and there are plenty of positives to the digital revolution, but the rub comes when tech giants like Apple and Spotify make money off the back of artists and labels and the split isn’t as fair. While the main streaming platforms only promote and reinforces the well known major label artist then there is a problem as choice, opportunity and diversity of music will decrease.

    PS I used to tape off the radio too but I think he was talking about illegal downloads. It’s funny as the stats say that those that illegally downloaded would usually buy more records too, maybe a try before you buy thing?The new one is stream ripping off YouTube.

    1. “IMHO musicians should play gigs and flog stuff on bandcamp… do it for the fun of it, and hopefully make a few pennies. Put music on spotify only if your major label insists” – my point (perhaps badly expressed) is that a big part of the problem is idiot bands (those who do not sell millions and will never sell millions) using services like spotify and apple. If you are making fortunes from selling miilions, playing to tens of thousands per week and selling songs to multiple advertisers then make your practically-nothing per spotify play money on top and its an additional income. If you’re not in that bracket then don’t let apple and spotify exploit you.

      One should take issue with the musicians and labels who allow themselves to be exploited by using clearly-exploitative services, and the governments that allow corporates too much power – you shouldn’t really blame the companies for wishing to maximise profits.

      Or maybe the musicians are not being exploited. Maybe its better to give your music away and play more gigs?

      In terms of the problem with choice, its everywhere. Most consumers are idiots who can’t see beyond a chain pub, Jamie’s Italian and a supermarket… that mindset will never find feminist punk, so they might as well listen to Sheeran on Spotify, it won’t make any difference. The sorts of people who want interesting things will always seek them out and find them, away from supermarkets, away from big exploitative corporates.

      I have ripped a few things off youtube… but only things that are, to my knowledge, unreleased.

      I have so many mixed feelings about all this. People deserve to be paid for their work, I passionately believe that. But at what point does me playing around with a guitar and DAW in my garage stop being a hobby and start being work? I’d love to be paid to make music, half the country probably would. Is lack of pay preventing good music – I’d say no, I regularly see superb bands playing for nothing in front of practically no-one.

      1. You raise many good points and no there isn’t one answer. Of course literally and instrinsically music isn’t automatically of commercial worth, the problem in a way was the commodification of music as you say most people play music as a hobby there is no right for it to be a monetary career, the worth of music is almost a philosophical thing and how much worth we attach to it, the demand and how the industry sold us formats to make profit from that. Now with the digital age you have a vast chasm between those artists/labels mainly doing it as a hobby or for the arts sake and those at a decreasingly myopic mainstream of labels and artists who are about monetising. However on the other hand iPods, iPhones laptops were all sold with the ability to consume music, Spotify needs music for it to work as a platform, so surely there should be a more equitable share of that pie for artists?It does cost to record great music of a certain level so there’s that dichotomy and struggle between the cost of playing and recording music or producing it for small labels and often what it makes. So this profit does exist to an extent but those tech giants are the ones benefitting. As you say there are alternatives like Bandcamp, and yes we as listeners have the freedom not to use Spotify et Al(I don’t either it devalues music in many ways) consumers are as much to blame if they aren’t more imaginative. But unlike the days of Peel/Top of the pops the industry is now geared towards streaming and a small ammount of vinyl sales these largely drive the music that gets heard and then reinforces its position, the internet has created the illusion of and given us a vast range of choice(perhaps so much that it becomes white noise?)but ironically at that top end with your Ed Sheerans, Coldplay , Adele’s it has never been more bland, commercial, myopic and concentrated, there’s a crushing irony there no?

  5. More random thoughts… not arguing… just ruminating… I’d not really thought about the increasing gap between commercial acts / labels, and hobby / art acts and labels. And I’m wondering whether it’s true. It probably is – I think that there is a tendency is unregulated capitalism for corporations to become monopolies, whilst there will always be new ideas and new niches. The music industry is actually probably at the forefront of the move from the caring capitalism of the post war period to where I suspect we’re going in the next 20-30 years which will be mass unemployment as a result of automation in all sorts of industries that have so far not been impacted by it (driving, face to face services – bars / restaurants). We will have carnage or we will have to become more caring, accepting that robot owners need to support those unemployed because of robots.

    There should be a more equitable share of the pie on spotify. Actually, I’m not even sure this is true, but it probably is. I suspect that the biggest issue is that the levels of revenue are so small and the quantity of music is so large that a fair share of the spotify money is “bugger all for most, a noticeable amount for the super-popular.”

    Spotify is basically the radio, and you don’t pay for the radio so why should you pay for spotify, unless you are paying not to have ads? That is not unreasonable from a consumers point of view. Spotify’s point of view is also reasonable “make as much money as possible” which the record industry seem to allow them to do because the artists allow them to. Does a thriving music scene make much of a difference to Spotify’s revenues? I doubt it. Another failing of this form of capitalism – it does not always produce good incentives.

    Were I poor or selfish and from a younger generation I can imagine myself stealing lots of music, but I still can’t picture myself on spotify

    Why do young artists so happily put their music everywhere? Does the fact that an A and R person might find you on any of the services mean you should be on all? Or should you accept that if you’re good you’ll get picked up eventually, and the priority is to ensure that your fans know where to go to find your music and that you get paid fairly from that source?

    There is a crushing irony between the big choice and dismal mainstream. Again, is that not just the inevitable path of capitalism? Or at least until such time as something forces ‘revolutionary’ changes (I mean something radical happens that shakes the whole music industry model massively again.)

    “It does cost to record great music of a certain level”. One might argue that one can record very very very cheaply now, it all comes down to the end result that you want. And if you want an expensive sound then too bad you have to go down the corporate route. If you wish to make music for next to nothing you can. Again I’m getting a bit of a sense of entitlement – the idea that musicians have a right to make a record with a certain sound or quality.

    I suppose, ultimately, my view is that we live in a neo-liberal capitalist country and to a large extent) world. That is cruel capitalism and under cruel capitalism you have to do a combination of “whatever you can” and “as many principled decisions as your conscious and wallet allow”. I am not sure that there is a problem with the music indutry as much as there is a problem with this form of capitalism.

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