Hey! It ain’t so bad: an artist's defence of streaming by Kev Baird of Two Door Cinema Club
First of all, this is a topic that polarises opinion in the artist community. Hell, it polarises opinion in my own band! From my side of the fence, I’m struck by the narrative from my artistic peers. It feels like all you hear is either doom and gloom from the baby booming old timers or point scoring from the institution’s biggest benefactors. It seems like no one says, “Hey! It ain’t so bad!”
If I may…
From my side of the fence, I’m struck by the narrative from my artistic peers. It feels like all you hear is either doom and gloom from the baby booming old timers or point scoring from the institution’s biggest benefactors. It seems like no one says, “Hey! It ain’t so bad!”
If I may…
There have been foundation-shaking changes since a Parisian invented a sound-writing machine in 1853. It’s a cyclical process. The industry enjoys success, something new rocks it to its core, whether it’s economic downturn or technological advancement, over time the industry levels out, turns a profit, then the next booby trap comes along.
We’ve just moved out of the levelling out stage and into the turning a profit stage. Universal Music posted their biggest revenue in a decade in 2015. It’s important to remember that Spotify, not policing or take down requests, beat piracy. A new, better, efficient way, a fucking profitable way, moved people away from illegally downloading music. Holding back the future is like bucketing water out of a sinking boat. Streaming music is the now, there’s no going back. Napster is a royalty paying, music streaming service now!
There are many valid points from the haters. The album, as an art form, has been devalued, it’s all about singles, streaming services reinforce the one hit wonder career path, I don’t want my music on any free tier, why am I not getting paid?
You’ll hear artists rebuke streaming services for the amount of money they get paid but one band’s experience doesn’t represent them all. Each band has a different web of agreements with other entities. An artist who splits streaming money with their label 50/50 is going to get paid a lot more than the one who splits it 80/20 in label favour. And these varying splits are commonplace. You want to know how much money there is in streaming? Then look at how much money streaming services are paying out to the labels. The big three, Sony, Warner and Universal, are raking in $70m a week exclusively from streaming. They aren’t complaining.
If you’re not getting paid, speak to your label.
The question of the album art form losing its significance is certainly an important issue. It’s good to remember that “the album” is still a relatively new concept. A concept invented, loved and bought by the baby boomer generation. To my mind it is no surprise that our new, super connected generation are creating new tastes and listening habits.
But doesn’t streaming unlimited music for £9.99 a month, or free with adverts, devalue the art form? The consumer sets the value, not the artist. Remember the bargain bucket at OurPrice? The piracy era taught us that the average person didn’t value the piece of art at the same amount the record companies did. The increasing user figures would suggest that the pricing of Apple Music and Spotify is more in line with what the average music fan feels comfortable with.
Ad funded is where it all gets a bit sticky. In 2015 900m people played music on ad-funded platforms, such as YouTube. The scary thing is what that contributed to the labels, i.e. before it gets split between artist and label depending on their contract. The average person using ad-funded platforms contributed $0.70 for the whole of 2015. That’s less than 6 cents a month for unlimited music streaming!
You’ll hear artists *cough Taylor Swift* all the time talking about how they can’t stomach their music being used on the free tier of Spotify and that is why they are exclusively releasing on Apple Music. Hey Taylor! Care to explain why you’re on YouTube?
It seems clear that the key to success, for everyone, is getting more people on subscription services. Less than 1% of the world’s population have subscribed. We are only at the beginning of what could be the golden age of streaming. Exclusives hurt that growth. People are just so fucking confused! If you were signing up today and you loved the tried, tested platform of Spotify and were excited by its playlist capabilities, but you also loved Taylor Swift or Kanye West, which platform would you choose? The short term benefits some platforms will give to an artist to exclusively window with them seem short sighted compared with the long term goal for the streaming service; the death of its competition.
The draw of subscription-based platforms is accessibility and quantity and quality of music. The power play between major corporations battling it out for your £9.99 a month feels like it’s bad for everyone, except the corporations. We need to be attracting more people to streaming as a whole and that is why I can stomach the ad-funded tier of Spotify. It’s about getting them through the door, showing them what they’re missing out on and converting them to paying customers.
Ad-funded streaming as a concept is great. Sure, there are some kinks to iron out and it’ll be interesting to see where the land lies in five years, but it definitely feels like a positive force for artists, given the recent history. As artists we need to find a way to be a part of the future. The past is the past. That ship has sunk. If you’re not happy with the system, then change it. Going backwards isn’t an option. The world is more connected than ever before, but 99% of the world isn’t connecting with the future of music listening. How are we going to go out and get them?