In defence of streaming services

In the world of commercial music the power balance has shifted – billions of consumers now have more pull than hundreds of thousands of recording artists.

It’s called democratisation.

The more people you have making decisions, and the more immediate the impact of those decisions, the greater the variation in choice. A large number of consumers have chosen to spend their collective music budget on a little bit of lots of different artists’ work, where previously a small number of record company executives had allocated it across a narrower spectrum on their behalf.

If anybody wants to argue that the price per impression on streaming services is too low, then it should be pointed out that the artist receives that minuscule sum every time their song is played, as opposed to an up-front lump sum when purchasing a record or CD. Divide the purchase price of a CD by the number of times you think your fans will listen to a song on it and you’ve set your own price per impression. If you’d still prefer the lump sum you either don’t think much of your songs or you don’t think much of your fans.

The process for getting songs from the mind of the artist to the ears of the consumer doesn’t only involve an artist writing a song and a consumer listening to it. It can, but it’s a pretty inefficient way to make a buck. The more moving parts between minstrel and tavern patron, the smaller the cut the artist gets from each sale – hopefully to be made up for by sales volume increasing as they leverage the economies of scale inherent in reaching a wider audience.

The ability to record, duplicate and reproduce audio opened up enormous markets to artists, but also transferred control over a lot of moving parts to those who owned the recording studios and pressing plants. The price per impression fell, but for the first time, musicians – outside of a few composers and divas – got rich out of it.

These days you can record, master and publish a nigh-on-professional, full-length album in your bedroom on less than what I paid for my first car. Anyone with a modern mobile phone can show their talents to the vast majority of the world in a matter of minutes. Just think of the number of moving parts in that transaction – ISPs telcos, web developers, network engineers – all the programmers writing the software to power everything. They all deserve to be paid for the part they play as well.

And guess what? People are still getting rich out of it. In fact there are more professional musicians in the world than at any other point in history. I’ll take $200 a week in streaming royalties, over the life of an itinerant minstrel.

There’s nothing forcing artists to use streaming services. Just like there’s nothing forcing them to use record companies. The same technology that allows us to live-stream from our living rooms in Brisbane to our fans in Milwaukee also allows us to sell physical media by mail order.

The formula for success hasn’t changed. It’s always been the same, regardless of whether you’re a wandering minstrel, a pub rock band, a ‘serious’ recording artist or bedroom EDM whiz kid.

If you want more money… get better.

Gabriel Buckley

1 Comment on "In defence of streaming services"

  1. “If you’re a signed artist, you are paid whatever is in your recording contract,” Casey Rae, Vice President for Policy & Education at the Future of Music Coalition, told me. “And there’s not a lot of transparency there. When young artists sign with a label, they don’t always realize how much of their money they are signing away.”

    Even an artist with a good record label and a good deal is only one part of a giant group of people who work together to get a song to listeners. And all of those people have to get paid.

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