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Music Education

The Issue With Streaming Platforms

It’s rare to see someone walking down the street with a Discman, boombox, or even an iPod nowadays. Subscription services like Apple Music, Spotify, and Amazon Music have taken over the music streaming industry. Their convenience and affordability make any other music-listening method seem archaic. Remember when getting a $10 iTunes gift card was one of the best Christmas presents ever? I have a distinct memory of opening up The Black Eyed Peas’ “The E.N.D.” CD on my 9th birthday and feeling like I struck gold. I can’t even imagine being excited about either of these products now, since today we have access to every song ever made at the tips of our fingers.

Royalties & Inequality

Unfortunately, this convenience comes with a price. Recently, there’s been talk surrounding the inequality involved in the music streaming industry. As artists were forced to cancel their gigs and concerts amidst the pandemic, many realized that the royalties they made off streams were abysmal. While issues with the royalty system have been apparent for years, staying inside has made artists take a long, hard look at where exactly the money from their listeners is going.

On average, streaming services take 30% of profits from subscription fees, while the other 70% goes to record labels, who then decide how much goes to the artists themselves. Included in this “artist” category are the producers, lyricists, composers, and performers. Once this process is all said and done, the actual percentage the artists receive is incredibly low, usually around 10%-15%. Considering that Spotify and Apple Music pay creators less than $0.006 per stream, independent and mid-level artists are failing to receive virtually any profits.

How Artists Are Adapting

Besides the economical issues, there is strong evidence that streaming is also changing the way music is written and appreciated. Before Spotify, Apple Music, or even iTunes existed, the act of listening to music was generally done by sitting through entire albums. Almost all traditional forms of media, like CDs and vinyl, followed this system. This made buying music something to be cherished and deeply acknowledged, as it increased the importance of newly released albums. I’m not saying that new albums from our favorite artists are not appreciated today, but the rise of playlist-based listening has changed the way we consume music.

Now, we listen by mood, era, feeling, genre. Just last week I wrote a blog about my favorite Spotify playlists. Playlists are fantastic and easy, but they take away the element of sitting through a single artist’s LP, as we used to do with CDs and records. Consequentially, artists are making less money and streaming platforms are making more. Songs are getting shorter and choruses are coming in earlier. In other words, pop is slowly becoming the formula for producing music, as there’s less risk involved and a greater likelihood of widespread streaming.

Though it’s unlikely that Spotify is going to go away anytime soon (or that we’re going to stop using it) it’s important to be aware of how musicians are being affected by these platforms. The good news is that there still are lots of alternatives to support your favorite artists. Vinyl is making a huge comeback, and there are websites like Bandcamp and Patreon that allow you to contribute directly to independent musicians.

– DJ Butter

All sources for this blog were found in these articles from NPR and Forbes.