Music in the Digital Age: Streaming

It’s the digital age, baby. These days, anything from reading a book to buying deodorant can be done online, and listening to music is certainly no exception. Consumers love the quick, easy, free listening that these music streaming services offer, but a lot of people, many of whom work in the music industry, aren’t too sure that streaming is great for everybody. Sure, it’s fantastic for artists getting upwards of one billion streams such as Ed Sheeran and Drake, but artists in less popular genres struggle on these platforms. Many people also believe that streaming is killing genres such as classical and jazz music. These platforms are not totally evil, though. Streaming services have given birth to many stars by giving exposure to less-known artists and have also allowed the music industry to grow by drastically cutting down on illegal downloads.

**For the purposes of this article, I will be mostly focusing on Spotify, the industry leader.**

One of the biggest criticisms of these streaming services is the profit that artists can make off of their music, or lack thereof. For every stream of a song, Spotify pays $0.006-0.0084 to the “holder” of the rights, and that money is then split between writers, producers, the record label, and the artist. To put this in context, Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” amassed more than 43 million streams and earned only around $350,000. Though that much money might not sound too bad to most people, that isn’t really a realistic expectation for most artists. Some lesser-known artists get less than 40 million streams on an entire album, and $350,000 is not a huge profit, especially after paying for studio time, production of the album, and possibly splitting the money between band members. With most artists usually releasing only one full-length work in a year, $350,000 is not a huge sum of money, especially for a band or someone on tour. 

Streaming can also do a lot of good for artists. For example, how many times have you been on Spotify and stumbled across a great song in a playlist you like or in a “recommended” category? One of the huge benefits of streaming services is the exposure that lesser-known artists can receive. Some platforms make public playlists such as “Everyday Favorites” or “Down in the Dumps” that include songs from new or obscure artists and are listened to by millions every day. Many artists have gained hundreds of thousands of listeners and huge success because of streaming popularity, such as Lukas Graham and his song 7 Years. Because of this, artists no longer need to worry about getting their song on the radio for it to become popular, all it takes is having their song put on the right playlist. 

  While pop or hip-hop artists have a fairly easy time getting streams and being discovered, many people think that streaming is killing less popular genres like classical or jazz music. The biggest reason is the pay-per-stream model. Classical or jazz pieces can be sometimes even over an hour long, and making less than a cent for an hour’s worth of work is not sustainable for these musicians, especially when a single classical piece can contain almost 100 musicians. Another problem facing these genres is the age of their listeners. Unlike the children of the new generations that think they need to listen to music all the time, no matter what they’re doing, the older listeners who stream these genres just don’t listen to music quite as much. This means fewer streams for these artists, which means less profit in the pay-per-stream system, which means these types of genres are going to start dying out soon.

Another point in favor of streaming is the way it has drastically decreased piracy. Piracy was a huge problem in the 2000s and nearly killed the music industry at the time. With people illegally downloading music for free, nobody was paying to download or buying albums, which hit artists and labels hard for a long time. The birth of streaming cut down on piracy drastically, meaning artists could start making money from their music again. Services like Spotify and Pandora that allow you to listen for free have made illegally downloading music pretty unnecessary. Because everyone was switching over to streaming, the music industry flourished and became even bigger than before. 

Overall, it’s not clear at this point what streaming will do for the music industry long-term. The quick, easy, free listening that these platforms offer will certainly continue to grow and change music as we know it. Though streaming hasn’t had any hugely negative effects yet, it’s entirely possible, but at the same time, streaming could allow the industry to become even bigger than it’s ever been. It’s the digital age, baby, and anything is possible. 

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