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Is it time for streaming to grow up?

This post was originally published on the Mumubl.com Newsletter. For updates and recommendations direct to your inbox don’t forget to subscribe.

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[Photo by Alexander Shatov on Unsplash]


Welcome again to the Mumubl.com newsletter. This week’s topic feels like a big one, but one without many concrete answers, so instead it’s more a look at the questions around streaming. Is there even a way to make it work?

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It felt that the year started off with a renewed focus on streaming and it’s myriad issues. Whilst it never truly fades into the background it does appear to have dropped down the agenda a little bit after ChatGPT landed and shifted all the focus of the music industry’s potential apocalypse being shaped by AI rather than streaming.

I’ve long been an advocate of streaming, having lived through the age of Napster and it’s many successors, such as LimeWire, and watching them decimate the music industry – streaming was the vehicle that turned that all around. It was a hell of a collapse, the peak revenues in 2000 were driven by many things that precipitated the decline but the music industry in the US. as an example, tumbled from $23.7b in 2000 to $7.7b in 2014. It’s streaming that has helped to push that back up, the US industry being up to $14.9b by 2021.

[Sources https://www.riaa.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/2022-Year-End-Music-Industry-Revenue-Report.pdf and https://www.statista.com/chart/17244/us-music-revenue-by-format/]

I’m less easy nowadays to advocate for the streamers, even though for the majority of consumers it’s clearly the preferred way to listen – there’s only a minority of people buying records. It isn’t working for the artists though and that is it’s big problem. It’s always in some ways been a problem since streaming kicked off but I had, I guess naively, assumed that it would be something that would work it’s way out in time. That the streamers would put the industry back on the front foot and then start to build and grow into something that makes music sustainable.

The problem is it hasn’t grown, or maybe better to say it hasn’t matured. It’s almost become worse, with little differentiation between the platforms. Unlike the TV landscape where you have to pick and choose what services to pay your money to to determine which shows you access. The catalogue is pretty standard across music streaming services and this lack of differentiation is not helping competition, at least not on a scale that is meaningful for anyone. The catalogue, the actual music, the artists, aren’t necessarily the focus of these streaming companies.

But are the streamers the problem? You surely have to consider the fact that Spotify for example has never turned a profit, it pays out the majority of its revenue in royalties, sure they can change the way that pot of cash is split and it might make a difference but someone here is making money so who is it? Are we simply looking at the a problem as old as recorded music? That the label is raking in the cash and it’s not finding its way down the chain to artists, except for those with stellar numbers, the likes of Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran. If so why is that? It can’t all be due to problems like legacy contracts.

There’s also the question of can every artist make money? A phenomenal amount of music is being uploaded to streaming services daily, there surely isn’t enough to go around to make it sustainable for everyone. I haven’t managed to find any figures on this but I’d love to see incomes for musicians on the periphery in the streaming v pre streaming eras. It’s always been the case that a career in music was a slog and difficult for all but the top few percent, is that worse now?

One thing that I think should be remembered in all this is that piracy hasn’t gone away, it’s not having the effect it was on the industry but it’s still there in the background and people are used to having all the music they want when they want it. Whatever steps are taken to remedy the situation to work in everyone’s favour people have to make sure that it doesn’t crack open that door to allow widespread piracy a foothold again.

Apart from knowing things need to change all I’m doing is throwing out questions. Which sounds not that useful, but they’re questions all of us involved in music should be asking, right from artist to consumer. They’re questions that in many ways haven’t changed since streaming really started to make money. There are plenty of people deeper into this than me who are working on answers, I encourage you to check out people like Tom Gray (of Gomez) and his broken record campaign or the Dada drummer Almanach Substack where Damon Krukowski writes about this regularly. If we’re all more aware then hopefully we can fix issues like the ones we have with streaming at the moment and without driving people back to the feast of online piracy.

This post was originally published on the Mumubl.com Newsletter. For updates and recommendations direct to your inbox don’t forget to subscribe.

Subscribe to the Mumubl.com Newsletter

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