Nothing gets clicks like a bit of hyperbole and there’s always plenty about. I happened upon a BBC “The Inquiry” piece – “Is Spotify killing the music industry?” which despite it’s promise to provide an answer to the question doesn’t really do so (still an interesting listen with some great opinion though). In short I’d say the answer is no. You only have to look at music industry revenues to see that Spotify has reversed the trend of decline that was brought on largely by piracy and the industry’s failure to adapt to the internet. In fact there’s more money in the industry, and especially major labels than there has potentially ever been. This is more where the problem lies.
Shortly after listening to the BBC bit I saw The Times had an article, How pop’s golden oldies are killing new music which may hit closer to the heart of the problem. There has been a fundamental shift in what we’re actually measuring in the charts, previously it was sales, largely driven by new releases and competing with other new releases and the odd reissue. It made no difference to the charts if you listened to your newly purchased album once or a hundred times. Now we’re measuring listening habits and you’re competing with everything ever released, and not just that but there is such an ease to releasing music onto streaming platforms that there is also more new music than ever getting out there with a global reach.
There’s a change needed to keep the flow of new music and it’s hard to see how some of that will happen. Back catalogues have such a huge increase in significance and value, they’ve always been valuable but not in the way they are now. With money pouring in from firms like Hipgnosis it makes it all the harder to fight against that, the major labels are all shareholders in streamers like Spotify so aren’t likely to be voting for Christmas with other turkeys.
The answers may lie in a lot of places, there are plenty of reports of independent artists and smaller labels with more streaming friendly deals making a more healthy living from streaming. A minimum price per stream would also be good in my opinion and that may require legislation, one of many things campaigns like #brokenRecord are pushing for.
It’s something that fascinates me though, for myself I see streaming as something everyone has to work with, it’s so clear it’s a popular way for people to consume music and it is a better to the alternative of piracy that it helped curbed. But it does seem again the labels have managed to stack the odds in their favour and take in more money whilst passing less than the fair share to artists. I’d love to dig deeper and work out how this compares to how the major labels used to treat artists thirty or forty years ago. Maybe I’ll get to that in the future.
But for the moment don’t believe the click bait, the music industry isn’t dying but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have some problems to sort out.