You’ve heard it everywhere by now: the Internet will be the death of the music industry. Digital music streaming, whether through “freemium” methods like the free tier of Spotify or SoundCloud or the subscription services like Tidal, are apparently the worst things to ever happen to music. Artists and record labels aren’t getting paid enough, but listeners have little desire to fork over cash for pieces of plastic that most laptops don’t even have a drive for anymore. People only listen to singles. The art of the album is collapsing under our feet. To be a career musician is to know pain.
Yes, vinyl sales did outstrip digital streaming revenues this past year. Digital streaming gives artists only fractions of a penny. The only artists getting checks worth cashing from streaming revenue are superstars who already sell albums. Even Napster, the father of music piracy, has become a subscription service — but who even uses Napster anymore? CDs have by far suffered the most through this music evolution as sales have been steadily declining for a decade now.
Streaming isn’t going away. Internet is now arguably a basic essential for anybody in a developed world, and if you have Internet, you’ve got access to free music. And if you have access to free music, why would you pay — why should you pay?
Some would argue for morals. A lot of hard work went into making the music you listen to. Dozens of people have roles in the production of just a single song for Katy Perry. Producers work tirelessly to create music for the masses, and in return, they get a pittance. From an economical standpoint, if listeners don’t pay, the artists have no money to continue recording music.
The reality is that both points are valid, but the issue isn’t the consumers. What changed is that consumers don’t want to buy CDs. No other industry has so stubbornly tried to shove outdated content down their customers’ throats – Apple doesn’t make flip phones. Typewriters are not commercially produced.
The real culprit in the lack of artist compensation is the streaming system and the technology behind it. Spotify’s play-percentage based system isn’t logically sound and they don’t even have a way to make sure all copyright holders for a song can be identified, let alone paid. Tidal pays artists (a bit) more, but nobody wants to pay for Tidal.
Exclusivity, like Taylor Swift keeping “1989” off Spotify or Kanye West only putting “The Life Of Pablo,” on Tidal for its initial release, will only end up hurting consumers who can’t or won’t pay the money for a CD. They’re forced into piracy. Smaller artists don’t have the privilege of fame to let them be choosy; “windowing” album releases is a privilege. If the music industry wants to make money, it needs to fix streaming instead of whining about it.
How can you make sure your favorite band makes money? Stream. Stream like your life depends on it. Because it does. Prove to record labels and streaming giants alike that it’s about time they stop trying to sell us shiny pieces of trash.
Email Hailey Nuthals at [email protected]