The two sides of streaming music

CHICAGO — Given the recent releases of Beyoncé’s Lemonade and Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo, the controversy of how music is being streamed has once again come into question. West decided to exclusively release his much-anticipated album on the music streaming service TIDAL, while Beyoncé chose to release hers on iTunes and Apple Music. However, due to popularity of other streaming services like Spotify, West ultimately caved in and released it there as well. Ultimately this raises the question of whether or not artists should have the freedom to put their music on exclusive services or even if these services will remain a viable source of income for the purchase of their music.

What music streaming service is dominating?

In a recent poll of about 120 DePaul University students, 83.5% stated that they are subscribed to Spotify with only 7.4% stating a subscription to TIDAL and 20.7% to Apple Music. Given that young adults are typically the target audience of artists’, especially Beyoncé and Kanye West, it is shocking to see such a low number of people having a subscription to the artists’ streaming service of choice.

When asked what streaming service the students most preferred the results were pretty much identical with Spotify taking up three-quarters of students’ preference. Despite the small pool of the poll it still raises the question on why artists’ have continued to push their music on other services instead of Spotify. Is it truly to express their freedom of choice or is it just a mere cash grab?

What people have to say on the issue.

Mark Burghard, a member of the local Chicago band, Harpers Grove is currently working on the release of their debut album. When asked about the steps he and his band have to take to get their music out there, he had this to say:

“I want to get music to as many people as possible. I am partial because Harpers Grove is a small group and we are still trying to get our name out there. But music and art should be shared. The whole reason you do it is to share your personal experiences and personal self with as many people as you can.”

He later went on to say that the process of getting onto a service like TIDAL or even iTunes is a lot more difficult than Spotify. With the near completion of their album, they have already been given the green light to release it on Spotify.

“Releasing music on an exclusive platform like TIDAL is at best a good way of trying to control where your content goes and at worst a grab for money. The way music is being streamed right now causes people to be tempted to illegally download the music which ultimately hurts the artist.”

Natalie Fry, a user of iTunes and Spotify felt that it makes sense though that popular artists are pushing this sort of control. She had this to say on the matter:

“Kanye West is a household name. Using something like TIDAL, popular artists can and are allowed to because they have the money and they have the fame. They know that fully dedicated fans will follow them. They know they’re being ripped off because they’re on the top of the charts. It makes sense for artists like them to try and make money on their music. I just personally don’t agree with the exclusivity.”

Fry stated she is partially guilty of ripping off popular artists, but only because she can’t afford to continually buy their music. That is why she likes Spotify where a paid membership is not mandatory to access the content.

Oisin Heneghan, a Spotify and Apple Music user and a fan of Kanye West, felt a need to support the idea of artists making their content exclusive though.

“Artists should for sure have control over how their music is distributed. Artists on Spotify barely make any money for their music. If artists like Kanye feel this is their best strategy to make the money they deserve then more power to them. The competition keeps the music business going.”

Alan Salzenstein, a music business professor at DePaul was able to confirm Heneghan’s statement.

“The growth and competition in streaming is proof that it is a viable model — and while the amount of money that is returned to artists is not to the scale that other models (CD sales) have, as streaming becomes more prominent, there will be more and more pressure to re-visit the financial models that go with it.”

Salzenstein further stated that artists should have control over how their music is distributed despite the flack they have received for it. He especially sees it as necessary given that we are getting into an era where music is less physical and more technological.

“It’s not a quick cash grab for money — just for the few who have the star power to get that immediate notice and large-scale following. But it IS, potentially, financially viable as a model. Streaming may never reach the heights of the billions of dollars that were earned through CD sales at the height of the music business, but it has changed the way we think of music and consume music. For years, people spoke about the “death of the music industry” — but now, it is in many ways, healthier than ever.”

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