Caveat: Let me be clear. It’s not the streaming that’s the issue. It’s the royalties paid primarily to the BIG artists and almost zero to the small artists. Stream OK, but BUY THE MUSIC YOU LOVE. Support the musicians themselves and not just the mega-corp labels, lawyers, and streaming companies.
I know it’s an old broken record and you’re tired of hearing about it. But your streaming habits are killing musician’s livelihood. What’s to be done?
Oh we musicians, we shouldn’t be trying to make a living making music anyway. That’s for the U2s and Rolling Stones of the world. Right? Fk that. The new “streaming” paradigm for music enjoyment is killing those of us engaged in making it. Well, unless we’re just doing it for a hobby.
Some of my favorite local artists are starving musicians. If they were dependent on the revenue from their recorded music, they would starve to death. Most of them have “jobs” or have found a way to make an additional business out of their musical talents. But the change in the music business has hurt them. And no, Apple Music and Taylor Swift are not going to help any of us.
Here’s the way things used to work.
Like a band. Hear a band on the radio, in a club, on someone else’s stereo. Seek out that band and buy their music for your devices. When it was albums and cassettes everyone was reasonably happy. The record companies made music. They got royalties from the blank cassette manufacturers. And the artists, if they had a reasonable deal, got some money for their efforts. Even in the good old days, record deals were not paying the musicians living wages, they were giving them an opportunity to go out on the road and sell some tickets and in the process sell some records. The machine was happy when both happened. And if you were successful you could make another record.
How Apple changed everything with iTunes and iPods.
Digital music has not been around all that long. And yes, it does sound different. But when I first realised I could take my entire record collection (a sizable wall at the time) around with me in a device the size of a deck of cards, I was thrilled beyond belief. Some of us really love music. And we’re always looking for the perfect song for the perfect moment. And having those epiphanies were like spiritual-aural magic tricks. DJs at parties were judged by the tracks they played, the order, and the flow of the moment.
As we began to buy music from iTunes, the royalties for records began to dry up. Big record companies folded or were bought by other big record companies. Now there are exactly THREE big record companies. Everyone else is an indie. And as the industry consolidated, partially forced by jobs level pricing (.99 per track) but also because of the “singles” phenomenon. Kids began buying just the song they wanted off iTunes rather than the entire album. And if the album isn’t dead today, it’s dead for all but the most intense fans and fans with pocket change to spare.
So the royalties dried up, the big labels consolidated to protect their empires. And sites like Napster popped up and flooded the web with FREE COPIES of any song you ever wanted to hear. And just as it appeared the industry and consumer were at least making a pact, in came streaming services.
Today, kids don’t have to buy any albums. They don’t have to give a single dime to any musical artist. With streaming services they never have to buy a song. They only have to worry if they don’t have good cell connection or if they’ve maxed out their parents digital data plan. Sure, Spotify pays artists. And Apple Music will pay artists. BUT… And this is a big one.
BUT, the artists making money on Spotify are the same ones managed by the BIG THREE music companies. Under the Digital Copyright law, via the same “fair use” clause that radio stations use, streaming services can stream any album, unless explicitly requested not to do so, without paying any specific artist any money. The money collected by Spotify, Pandora, and Apple Music goes into the big royalty payment systems ASCAP and SESCAC. And those agencies distribute the real money based on catalog and historical business.
The Artist Royalty companies are in on the deal too. And they pay out the money, but 90% of it goes to the big back catalogs of The Stones, The Eagles, Led Zep, U2, and any other supergroup who would lawyer up if any of the money stopped flowing. The Record Companies are still getting their piece of the action and so is Pink Floyd. But local artists and favorites like Sara Hickman and Darden Smith and getting monthly royalty checks in the single digits. And they have substantial catalogs of fantastic songs.
What’s the Plan?
So for the consumer today, a decision has to be made in favor of your artists and away from you cellphone companies and streaming music companies. By paying Spotify or Apple Music their $10 a month fee, you are dutifully paying the Stones for their hard work while starving most of the artists you care about. And your data plan is now your music tax.
A better plan:
- Buy music.
- Put that music on your phone. (why give the money to your cell provider?)
- Don’t stream it, listen to it in 320bps MP3 fidelity.
Well, if you really want to go crazy, go buy an album or cd and play it through real speakers rather than earbuds. Wow, you’re going to be amazed how much more music there is to music when you take out the earbuds.