Thoughts On Streaming Music: How I Use It And My Take On Its Future
The first streaming service I ever signed up for was Pandora, an account I still use regularly. I have never paid for Pandora though as the way I use it is closer in theory to traditional radio. Yes the stations are centered around favorites of mine, and if I’m at my computer I will do my best to “train” whatever station I happen to be listening to, but overall I use pandora when I’m passively listening. Just wanting a certain vibe of music in the background, it was and is great for that and the occasional ads do not detract from the experience. Overall a win-win as the music selection is better, and the ads are less frequent than traditional radio.
Second was Spotify, also the free version. The number one way I use Spotify is as a preview service, I will listen to albums new and old that I am interested in, and if after that first listen I feel I will listen to the album again, I will purchase it, usually on CD but occasionally on iTunes. I still prefer to purchase on CDs for two reasons, one is the audio quality, but equally important are the liner notes. Knowing the personnel involved in creating a record is by far one of the most valuable things to me, and the fact that that information is still not consistently available through most digital services is pretty crazy.
Another very valuable (and very musician specific) way I utilize Spotify is when I’m creating charts for, and practicing cover songs off albums I don’t own. The ability to repeat sections as many times as necessary is great, in fact the quickest way to get me to start paying for Spotify would be if they removed the ability to scrub through audio. Even though I do find immense value through using their service, as long as it is offered legally and free, why wouldn’t I take advantage of that? That being said, $10.00 a month is an incredible value for the service they provide, and if the free service was crippled in some way I would absolutely pay. If I do begin paying for a streaming service though I would first look into other options from Google, Apple, and others. Though I do like the features and layout of Spotify, I would want to ensure that my money was being put toward the service that provided the best combination of power and value.
Taking a broad look at Streaming and its impact on artists and the industry as a whole provides a more challenging question. Moving forward now that people have experienced it, I think the ability to stream in some way is going to be essential. Especially for those consumers who care far more about being able to easily stream music on their mobile device, and far less about audio quality and mix engineers. However in order for it to be sustainable by the industry, I think the price point will have to be raised overall, or changed to a sliding scale, not unlike electricity. You can have as much of it as you want, whenever you want, but you will pay for the amount you use. Or alternately sold in time increments rather than albums, so for example rather than buying ten albums, you buy ten hours, and can listen to whatever music fits in that block of time. This would of course be calculated by the amount of audio actually streamed, not the amount of time you are logged into the service.
For artists, steaming is the definition of a double edged sword. Inarguably their content is getting in front of more ears, however the amount of those listeners who convert into direct sales of albums/tickets/merch versus the amount they are paid per stream may not actually work out to as much added value as that created by the exclusivity of a non-streamed album. Platforms like Bandcamp make this compromise far better by allowing free streaming, but also on the same webpage providing a point of purchase for direct downloads in the format of the listeners choosing. Bandcamp also provides a marketplace for an artists physical and merchandise sales, and now a direct artist subscription service. All of which combine to make it a highly advantageous and powerful platform that I think the industry as a whole will have to take a quite a few notes from moving forward.