My Top 5: A Quick Analysis on the Music Streaming Landscape

I pay for Spotify. I haven’t heard a single track off of Lemonade. I’m weeks behind on Views. I spent nearly a month having anxiety attacks waiting for the release of ANTI. I finally start paying for music, and I get less access than when I was pirating more than Jack Sparrow himself.

Exclusive releases are horrible for the music industry, and every exec at Tidal and Apple know it. They are basically saying that they can’t figure out a way to differentiate their product, so they’re taking the route of putting a stranglehold on the supply and demanding us to pay more instead. They are starting a war; putting listeners in a position to get access to about 20% of label backed album releases, an implausible long term strategy that will lead to their inevitable fail. The Spotify Beyhive community is too strong of a force for stunts like that to be sustainable. Here are my predictions for the services that will emerge, based on both model and strategy, as the top source for music streaming further down the road.

1. SOUNDCLOUD

SoundCloud doesn’t even have albums, has a pretty weak app, and is still my number 1 source for streaming and discovering. They have laid out the best model for emerging unknown or new artists, along with popular superstars, for getting songs in the hands of relevant listeners in a fluid and social media kind of way. Timelines are tailored to your style with artists and friends reposting and stamping their endorsements on new songs for you to discover, rather than a label pushing it on to you. Like, I just now went to the discover section for Spotify and the top pick for me was PARTYNEXTDOOR’s mixtape. Everyone knows I’ve heard PARTYNEXTDOOR’s mixtape! Everyone!

I might be being too harsh on Spotify here, because they did have Gallant, Ramriddlz, and Skizzy Mars mixed in there too, which are all solid recommendations. But it’s not the same kind of customization as a friend with similar taste reposting an artist like feez who has all of 500 followers. This made to fit, relevant stream model is one that’s been a constant struggle for Twitter and Facebook and I think SoundCloud is nailing it.

Lastly (sorry I’m really excited about this), SoundCloud came to terms with Sony Music Entertainment as a partner a few months back, so in the near future (I think maybe even now with SoundCloud Go) premium listeners will be able to pay and have access to licensed music that falls under the SME umbrella. According to them, that’s over 110 million tracks. Now, that revenue stream will be their top priority moving forward, and that potential label control scares me. But I think they will have the cajones to keep enhancing the way we discover talented unsigned musicians, rather than meeting the needs of UMG first. SoundCloud is great for the people, and once they clean up their layout wow lookout, they are my pick-to-click.

UPDATE: I typed this for a blog about a month ago, so I’m happy to learn that Twitter has invested $70 million into SoundCloud and I can breath a sigh of relief that I may not be insane.

Quick note: If anybody at SoundCloud stumbles across this, for the love of God, make it so when you change a playlist from public to private it will reset the date created to the current time. I want my public playlist at the top of feeds. Not buried back when I started it a month ago.

2. SPOTIFY

Okay, this one will be long too because I talk about artist compensation, but after that I swear it’s short and sweet. Judging by the tone thus far, you probably could have guessed that Spotify would roll in at number 2. This is probably just me justifying paying for the service, but they do such dope stuff from a marketing standpoint that I really think they are firing on all cylinders strategically. It seems like they’ll have the intellectual horsepower to adapt over time and develop awesome ways to meet the needs of listeners. They’ve done cool stuff with Uber, getting people safely to concerts at a discounted rate using referral codes (and also implementing that aux cord thing where the riders can play Spotify without actually plugging their phone in??), partnered with massive festivals, Starbucks, Virgin Airlines, and all of these different brands that offered perfect alignment as well as a creative way to expand the listener base. They also utilized Facebook in a way that was insane for their growth, I actually remember that being the first time I had heard about Spotify. Most importantly, they’ve yet to partake in the exclusive release war, at least to my knowledge, and I badly want to believe that’s because they know how detrimental that will be long term and are waiting for the other jack wagon’s to fizzle out.

I do hate that opening the Spotify app on my computer is a 3 hour process and almost shuts the damn thing down, but I mean the world is now mobile with Bluetooth so I can see how that receives less attention. I do feel for the artists that make virtually nothing from royalties (between $0.006 and $0.0084 per stream according to Business Insider) but to me that’s just kind of the price you pay for the massive fan growth you return just by being there. I understand that Taylor Swift has global die-hards that will pay $15.00 for her album, but it’s pretty rare for artists to reach that scale. Spotify should be viewed as a tool for growth, just as the rest of them, that you get to see a return from rather than paying for an advertisement. Check out this story Beatles Bible, The Beatles played 48 4–6 hour shows in 2 months all night for £2.50 a person. SHOWS! 4–6 HOURS! That’s the kind of energy and commitment it took for growth, so I sympathize but it’s a bit of a double-edge sword here (pretty confident I’m not using that expression correctly but roll with me).

“That’s just supply and command” — Ricky, Trailer Park Boys

3. APPLE MUSIC

Apple and Spotify are close because Apple will always be great from a marketing standpoint, and the brand is so strong that they can have immediate success. We all have MacBooks to go with our iPhones to go with our iPads because of that seamless experience, yet again this will be a competitive advantage for Apple. As we move further and further away from devices (Google and Facebook making enormous strides in A.I.) and that Apple brand starts to slip, listeners won’t feel as obligated to maintain the Apple identity. That’s pretty much all I have to say for Apple Music, they are extremely similar to Spotify and are riding on the brand equity coattails. They can pay to have Views all for themselves that’s fine, I’m not subscribing to 4 different streaming services.

4. TIDAL

I have had very few good things to say about Hov’s Tidal. When I first tried out the service, I could only access my account on 1 device. C’mon. Then, when trying to cancel my subscription there wasn’t even a way to do that through the app; forcing me to go through a drawn out email exchange in a desperate effort not to lose $20 bucks next pay cycle for average content that I could get elsewhere. This is obviously a problem that could have been resolved by now, but being greeted by a greedy 1 device minimum really got us off to a ROCky start (eh?). Since then, I’ve seen 0 strategic partnerships, 0 engagement initiatives, and 100% of the effort going towards gathering all of the exclusive content they can get their hands on so that listeners have no other option than to subscribe.

5. PANDORA

You can tell that Pandora is out here really trying to stay relevant, but they just don’t have the model to stay afloat. They claimed the exclusive rights to new the season of Serial podcast, which was a flop. They’ve had artists promote their personal Pandora playlists, which struck me as unimaginative and easily replicated. And on top of it all, every service has it’s own radio station feature now that’s better than Pandora’s core product. I still occasionally use Pandora, sure. Throw on some Jon Mayer Pandora when I’m cooking dinner, or some Dr. Dre when I’m hosting a BBQ. It’s easy and nice just having a little background music, not having to worry about adjusting the stations at all. My mom digs it too, which is something they can hold their heads up about. But I’m sure I speak for the majority when I say I’m never paying for Pandora, and I don’t think it’s a model that can be sustainable in the long run with such a competitive landscape.

It will be interesting to see how the streaming wars play out, and I’m excited how new technologies continue to offer listeners new ways to consume. In all honesty, Google Play will probably be the top contender of them all, using A.I. to have songs play when we think about them and completely removing that strenuous clicking process all together. But for now, make sure you follow me on SoundCloud and let me know how much you love Apple Music. Happy listening.

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