Streaming services – can we make this work for musicians?

I know, I know (she said in her best whiny voice.) Streaming is a hot button issue right now. Musicians get a pittance when you listen on a streaming player, especially when you compare it to they heyday of recorded music – back in the 70’s and 80’s when the world spun around albums and CDs and you had to buy the whole thing to get that song you loved. Now there are albums full of strong songs but people generally buy a few tracks per album at most, cherry picking to make their personal playlists.

I hate it that musicians who bring us inspiration, entertainment, escape, and even healing have had the underpinnings of their source of income ripped right out from under them by technology. I was in radio so I feel that pain from a separate but similar place. Live, local radio has been almost entirely replaced by syndication, centralization, and voicetracking. Stations employ very few human beings beyond the managerial and sales staff. The majority of us have had to find other sources of income even if we were able to keep one toe in the door of the field that we love. I spent a great deal of time hanging out in record stores as a kid and working in the as an adult. Those are gone too. And print publications? The magazines we used to pick up at Borders (oh, they closed too) every month are mostly gone. Niche publications I used to write for faded away because record companies couldn’t afford to buy ads anymore. To put it bluntly – it sucks when the ways to make a living practicing your craft go away.

You can’t grab the hands of the cosmic clock and pull them backward. Streaming is here to stay, just like the fact that you can’t walk into your neighborhood record store and ask your friend behind the counter to recommend new music, and if you still listen to the radio the person talking between the songs is probably sitting in a studio hundreds of miles from your hometown.

I am hoping that creative minds will come up with ways to monetize streaming so they can pass along a more equitable amount to the people who make the music. Just now Apple changed the parameters of their streaming service after it became known that they were paying musicians nothing during the free access 3 month launch period. This happened because Taylor Swift, a musician who has enough clout and fearlessness to step out and speak out did just that. It has opened up the conversation about the impact these new and constantly evolving business models have on the human beings who are in the business. We are seeing startups and shutdowns, reimagination and reinvention, big players trying to carve out a niche and smaller ones either getting shut out or setting up camp on the fringe of the next big wave.

Nobody knows where this will lead. I could throw a guess that any reasonable solution will come from someone who has no interest in the way things worked before. We can learn from history but we can’t recreate it. Meanwhile, forgive the boomer anthem reference but time keeps on slipping into the future.  If I want turn you on to some music you might not know about because your life full of busy, overwhelm, and too much information, this is the best way to do it. I can’t invite you all to my house. I would have to clean. I can’t start an internet radio station because I don’t have the time or skill to sell advertising and would need to do that to pay the fees for licensing the music (another rant for another time.) So we do the best with what we’ve got and in my opinion Spotify is the easiest streaming service to navigate if you want to share your music discoveries with 2 or 200 of your closest friends or discover excellent music that flies under the radar because it doesn’t have big label promotional money behind it.

Here’s an example. I was just listening to recent albums and songs that were on the new release lists sent out to radio. A song by a sax player I had never heard of, Dan Mongerio, popped up on the list. I found it on Spotify, fell in love with it, contacted him and he sent me an advance copy of the album he will be releasing this fall. It’s stunning and original. It will be one of the best of the year. I will review it when it comes out, hopefully you will sample it and buy it instead of seeing the name, going “who?” and passing it by on the way to more familiar territory. That’s how discovery works, when you get the process down you share your finds, encourage others spread the word, and hope those ripples turn into a wave that goes right into that musician’s bank account. That may sound idealistic and the road to a solution is gonna be rocky but you can’t get the word out until you actually hear it the first time so we use what we’ve got till something better comes along.

Here is a thoughtful piece on streaming, Spotify, and Apple Music. Always controversial, always insightful and always makin’ you think, music blogger Bob Lefsetz brings it : Bob Lefsetz – More Apple Music 

If you want to really get deep The Music Industry Blog has loads of explanations, thoughts, charts and data on new technologies and the music industry