Remember the days when you had to beg your parents, or drop a hint to them on buying you that new album from your favorite artist..maybe even asking them to let you go to the store to buy it yourself?
Although you can still buy physical copies of albums, doesn’t that seem like an old-school thing to do? That’s because we are finally in the dominant era of music streaming. This new way of accessing music on-the-go has changed the entire landscape of the music industry, and with change [to anything], comes pros and cons.
The term “streaming” at this point, is fully understood, embraced, and used in our lives daily. Though it may feel like Streaming is indeed the latest way to access music, it surfaced over 15 years ago with early “streaming” platforms like Napster, Limewire, YouTube, SoundCloud and others, but due to copyright and label restrictions, most of them were considered “illegal” distribution and some even were shut down. Following the streaming era came what we refer to as “blogs”. these journal-like platforms hosted streaming capabilities, and even were considered to be streaming services as well, with 100% legal operation.
With technology rapidly growing and the music world trying to keep up, artists saw this shift as an opportunity to do for themselves what artists in the past would have normally relied on a label for. Many artists, including some of today’s superstars like Drake, Wale, J. Cole, and Kendrick Lamar really elevated their careers from utilizing this new wave of music resource. CD’s, radio and other older formatted publications soon became obsolete, and companies/labels were forced and scrambled to adjust to the new era of “streaming.”
As consumers began to digest and understand the perplexities and uses of streaming, the upsides quickly exposed. Eliminating the need to go to the store to purchase music, streaming is 100% direct to consumer. Users are able to access music in a matter of seconds. Artists are learning how to survive independently solely based on the booming trend of music streaming. Not having to sign for label-backing to get their music circulating on today’s most used platforms (Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, etc), the artist is able to take the higher percentage in their sales, quicker and more accurately. Streaming has helped eliminate music pirating, something that couldn’t really be stopped or regulated in the years of mp3 sharing.
Artists/labels learned that every single play serves towards building revenue.. and also built exposure. With just a simple click on an app on your phone, people from all over the world can hear new music and discover new artists. Streaming services quickly added groundwork toward expanding artist fan base, also resulting in more revenue. Through this services, the artist and consumer has the power to be in full control of their music experience and/or career. But as we adapt to the new era and all of its advantages, we grow to recognize more and more of its flaws, as well.
The biggest change we’ve experienced thus far with “streaming” is the way the RIAA gauges sales.
For years sales were accounted for with physical copy units. Now, a single play counts towards an artist’s revenue, which obviously helps the artist more than anything, but how does it affect their quality of creating music?
A prime example of an artist learning how to benefit from single play counts via streaming services is Chris Brown and how he exploited the stream loophole giving us 40 tracks in his “Heartbreak On A Full Moon” album. Mindful of how loyal his fan base is, he knew the more tracks he featured on the project, the more streaming sales he would earn through the single play counts of an album with 40 tracks to stream, no matter if each track was subpar or up to par. He caught backlash for his unorthodox approach, but critics and fans have gone on to realize his “money grab” took a toll on the music industry and made it so we will yet again see a changing and transitions in the way artists go about their music rollouts.
Will this grow to become a new trend from our favorite artists? Longer projects and less quality? I revealed earlier how the independent artist is benefiting from this new way of music consumption.. but are the labels?
Back in the day, it was an artist’s main goal to get signed to a major label, but now, it seems that the labels are the one’s who are fishing around for their next big break. In 2018, it’s nothing for an artist to become a fresh new sensation simply based on one smash record that went viral. They’re easy access to streaming platforms makes it a literal option to put themselves on the map, ruling out the middle-man. This changes how labels pitch to signing an artist since half the work is already done. Before, it was the label taking a chance on an artist without the data that we have now. They would sign their acts based more-so on talent and promises.
For a while, it also seemed there would be a problem with competition. Companies were forced to brainstorm ways to separate themselves from the others to gain users.
During a time like this, something had to change, and a term that began resonating with these platforms that we saw capitalizing from anything was clear, exclusivity. This was a solution.
Apple Music found its niche by reaching out to major artists like Drake, Beyonce, Rihanna, to exclusively premiere their new record/project solely on their platforms. Apple Music also dominated with their Beats 1 Radio shows, giving Drake, DJ Khaled, Frank Ocean and others, their own [exclusive] radio show every week to premiere music. With Apple Music clearly on top, Spotify came in at a close second. Spotify chose to dominate with their playlists, quickly gaining momentum and leverage. As for TiDal, one of their upsides is the access to Jay-Z’s full discography. HOV pulled particular key albums from all other platforms, and hosted them exclusively to TiDal, leaving only a few albums on the other streaming services. TiDal also has the greatest pay-out for artists in terms of their sales. Streaming platforms are co-existing for now because of the steady innovation with new practices, but that can all change as the industry is continues to evolve.
From records, to cassettes, CDs, and now streaming, it’s safe to say we are experiencing the pinnacle of the digital era. The only question that lingers now is how will the “streaming era” evolve moving forward?
Will labels be able to keep up? As a consumer and fan, I hope this new era furthers and continues to thrive with integrity for the music we love. It’s still Hip-Hop, straight out of NYC..