Music revolution or the Grim Reaper?
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, you would have heard a lot about Spotify, the music streaming service that’s been taking the music industry head-on. Spotify is a music streaming service you sign up to use, you get free and subscriber options, and all the music in the world pretty much is available for you to listen to.
Think of Spotify as a radio station that you decide whats going to be played.
Like radio, you ‘stream’ the music – but across the Internet, not the airwaves. Free accounts give you standard quality music with advertising (about every third song you’ll get an annoying 15sec advert), whereas subscription accounts cost about $13 per month, giving you full resolution music, no ads and you can download the music if you want.
The bands get paid a commission, depending on a few factors, but it works out around half a cent per 3 minute song (slightly more for paying subscribers). So if you listen through a full album you’re probably giving the artist about 5 cents in commission. Bands also loose about 20% of that to their aggregator (the company that represents them and gets their music on Spotify), but other then that its pretty much 100% payed to the bands.
Spotify doesn’t hide all the figures either, you can easily see how much they are paying bands for their music – at the top of each page there are the numbers. Claiming to pay around 70% of all subscriber fees in royalties to bands, Spotify say its the best option to avoiding the tidal wave of music piracy that was destroying the industry.
Now this is amazing for end users, no longer do you need to buy CDs, iTunes or anything like that – you can just listen to what you want on the fly. It pretty much removed any need to pirate music, and you can feel good because in a small way you’re give some money to the artists, so we all win…right?
Well, yes and no.
With today’s consumer heavy mindset, people want stuff immediately…and cheap.
The traditional album is almost considered a thing of the past. A successful single can outweigh the profit made by an album 10 fold. Tours are sold on singles, and its no secret that the real money in music these days is live concerts. Companies like Spotify are providing a quick ‘listen to what you like, where you like’ service that is great for end users, but does very little to preserve any artistic intent behind the music. Its not hard to see the music industry is changing from the old days of album releases, to the new approach of singles and videos.
In someways you can blame Sean Parker for that. he single-handedly pretty much destroyed the music industry by bringing the mp3 format to the masses for free. The music industry went from a fat-cat over-indulgent monster to a barren wasteland of bones and tumbleweeds. Mainstay labels went broke, the big studios closed their doors and the bands sobbed over their dwindling royalty cheques. To be fair some of these guys deserved everything they got, but the end result has been a real dumbing-down of the industry, belt-tightening and more focus on one hit wonders and pop ‘sensations’ to capture the new mobile market (a-hem, did anyone say American Idol?).
So, ok back on focus – a band is getting about 5 cents every time someone listens to their album. Thats not a lot, sure – but Spotify urges artists to think of revenue over a long period, not just the initial commission. Over the years as an artist builds a following, the returns could be far greater then traditional methods of printing coffee coaster CDs and pawning them off at gigs.
Also times have changed for recording artists, studios are smaller and more streamlined. Everything is digital, and on-line distribution through services like iTunes has cut the margins required to make a profit on recording. Anybody can record a song now, heck you don’t even need a studio – an iPad will do. The scene has changed from a bunch of fairly talented musicians and years of road hardened experience – to weekend warrior, backwards cap wearing ‘producers’ who really have no business being in the business. To prove the point, Spotify recently released statistics showing of the 20 million odd songs hosted by the site, about 20% have never actually been played – at all!
That’s about 4 million songs sitting around that no one gives a toss about, and probably never will.
I guess its inevitable that one day soon technology will allow us to write a complete song on a computer tablet, with a full virtual band, mix and upload it to the web in as much time as it takes to have lunch. So what happens then, does music become irrelevant? Sure, there will always be die-hards who prefer old school ways of doing it and are happen to pay a premium, but it will become so expensive to produce actual real musicians who play real instruments, that traditional methods of recording would just die out too, much in the same way as vinyl has.
What can we do about it, I dunno – embrace it I guess. Considering the recorded music industry is only maybe 50 years old, maybe this whole ‘music’ craze is destined to be a small blip in the history of man kind – something they’ll look back on in a few hundred years time and wonder at how we used to actually ‘listen’ to music made on instruments, wow. Spotify is just one more tool helping us cheerfully down the path to complete music automation. Bands are becoming more digital and less human. We can never go back to how it was, we will only see more companies like Spotify popping up, instilling even more indifference in the consumers. Sure, in a ocean of absolute noise their are some diamonds, but as a whole we are witnessing the end of the artistic soul of music.