Exclusive Streaming

Eight years ago Spotify came along and launched a service I had been dreaming of for years. I’d had the idea for a streaming service, along with many other ideas, but had no idea or the will to try and get it off the ground. This isn’t one of those “I had the idea before them” whining posts – I had the idea, along with hundreds of thousands of other people, I’d imagine, but I really hoped someone would go ahead and make it. Some of my other ideas included a web design firm with my pal Colin, a question and answer social network (not unlike Quora, or maybe Twitter Polls), and something like Instagram, but not quite Instagram. All of these ideas were routed through Colin who, now, is quite literally doing one of his own ideas and making hay with it.

Spotify was a game changer, but in ways that the music industry didn’t fully understand, and might not understand still to this day. At least, certain artists might not understand. Spotify was a replacement for Torrenting for me, something I am not afraid to admit was a key part of musical awakening in late 2005. The advent of neat packing for entire discographies and super-fast broadband (man, 1Mb used to be so insane) gave me some of my favourite music. Spotify later became the place to discover music and build playlists, and now is my main source of listening. What with the MG and promos, a lot of what I do like ends up in my inbox now, but I still use Spotify to listen to pretty much everything. That and Google Play Music.

There is a problem though, and that’s the simple fact that musicians cannot be sustained on Spotify streaming revenues. The model is set up wrong. The labels can take huge cuts from streaming income and you really need to be upwards of millions of streams for it to be able to replace the success of a few thousand solid sales of an album. That isn’t Spotify’s fault – we, as the public, have decided that the value of these services is £10 and will pay it for a monthly subscription, and that’ll then have to be doled out to the artists, and Spotify needs to cover their costs. That’s not me arguing for it – it’s a solid fact. The issue comes when Spotify and others are replacing people buying music. They have done for me, in a lot of instances. That is going to shrink the ability of the industry to make money from their art down ever further.

But the alternative is worse isn’t it? Royalty free downloading for perpetuity? That’s what Spotify and others have prevented. Netflix has done the same to movie torrents, and the result is an income stream thought long-lost is at least providing something. Not much, but something. 

There is one other big problem with streaming, and it harkens back to this post – Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo is utter drivel most of the time. But he has been tinkering with it like a 1990s George Lucas. This is because if he updates it is updated for everyone. This is obscenely strange – endless iterations of the same song make it out to the public, like he was beta testing his new album. And he has done it to his 2013 release Yeezus too, which is even stranger. The concept of a finish art work appears to elude him. And then there’s the issue of Beyonce and Kanye locking their new albums into “their” streaming service Tidal. It offers better quality streaming (for more money, which is simply a racket – on normal ‘phones there is no way you’d be able to tell the difference between a 256kbps stream and an “HD” one) and it is “owned” by the artists. The artists that own it are, by all accounts, ones who have already made it. What about the ones that aren’t making it, or have no desire (or, like most of the MG stuff, non-mainstream and will never make it)? They’re unavoidably being shafted. And so are the customers. I don’t mind being signed up to a few movie streaming services, as taken all together it’s a lot cheaper than paying for a load of Sky channels, but music was never meant to be locked away.

Releasing an album exclusively into one shop used to be a big no-no and annoy folk. Then there were exclusive versions to one shop. Now there are full albums exclusive. Even full catalogues (though, I think that makes more sense than one record exclusive for a few weeks). 

Tidal isn’t something I care about. I’m well and truly entrenched in my free Google Play Music cloud streaming and Spotify’s streaming services, and Bandcamp. Oh yeah, Bandcamp, the place that independent artists can release their music on their own terms and make money directly? That’s where music should be going. Not into streaming services like Tidal, but Bandcamp. Or maybe your own store. But locking it behind a paywall for only a chosen few is simply not very nice. They are asking you to pay many times in a year for an album you in the past could have paid for once and had forever. It’s clever economics, and clever business, but it’s not very fan friendly.

And there will be apologists online, and those who say I am a hypocrite for having Spotify, but the truth is simple; exclusive streaming is the worst part of music today, and it must die.