Music Streaming or Music Stealing?
Technology isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s an amazing thing. It makes our lives easier, more efficient, and allows our society to progress and evolve for the better. However, some could say it is taking over the world, including people’s jobs. More recently, technology has colonized the music industry with new streaming services, leaving music artists feeling robbed of their creations. Due to this innovative nature of music today, people can access music whenever and however they please, without explicit permission from the artist themselves. While most people might not find a problem with this, the article, “Streaming Services Need to Pay Songwriters Fairly” from 2014, takes on a different perspective of streaming services through the eyes of an artist, personifying music streaming as the enemy. Although streaming makes music easily accessible, it has ultimately depreciated the value of music and established less incentive for future artists to create songs.
Music artists pride themselves on their work and doing what they love. Contrary to public opinion, it is a craft that involves hard labor, time, effort, creativity and, often, struggles to refine their art, like any other profession. Yet, in this era where streaming has revolutionized the music industry, it makes one question whether their music is still worth anything. In his enlightening article, Aloe Blacc reflects, “But does our work as songwriters have value? Coming from someone who has spent his life working hard to master his craft in order to touch the lives of others, that may seem like an absurd question” (Blacc). Aloe Blacc stresses how much effort he has put into writing songs in order to shed light on the “absurd” underlying issue that artists nowadays are not being compensated fairly for their music. As a result, the “value” of music is not what one might expect. Despite the fact that the answer to the question should be an obvious “yes,” Aloe Blacc reveals, “in today’s rapidly changing music marketplace, the answer is increasingly unclear” (Blacc).
There is no question that streaming places music at the tip of our fingers and the touch of a button, which although convenient, has made “purchasing” music less personal. In fact, Aloe Blacc reports that the medium of consuming music has changed drastically and “Purchasing and downloading songs have given way to streaming” (Blacc).Rather than the traditional way of going to the store and purchasing songs and albums individually to support these artists, people have no desire to personally own physical music anymore and are going through a “middle-man” such as Spotify, Apple Music, Youtube, or Pandora to access music. This “simpler” process has severed connections made between artists and their fans, and music is not being respected as highly.
Aloe Blacc also points out a crack in foundation of these streaming systems, where if one were to “Knock off a handbag design from a high-end fashion house or use a sports team’s logo in your new t-shirt line…expect a lawsuit in short order…You need express permission from the original creators to use or copy their work before you resell it…But the world doesn’t work that way for songwriters” (Blacc). This quote suggests music is worth less and inferior to these products. It implies that it must not deserve the protection that is bestowed upon these products. Not to mention, the “abhorrently low rates songwriters are paid by streaming services — enabled by outdated federal regulations — are yet another indication our work is being devalued in today’s marketplace” (Blacc). This reveals streaming service technology is advancing at a faster rate than music regulations, which “haven’t been updated since 2001 — before the iPod” (Blacc). Music is being valued today the same as in the past. That’s like saying gas should be the same price as it was in the past, which although would be great, is just impractical. The value of music should reflect the growing market just as gas has. In the article, “You Have No Idea How F**** Streaming Really Is,” musician Nora Germain also reveals an eye-opening metaphor to streaming. She compares it to if “clothing would be available for free, and those who wanted to pay a flat fee to “subscribe” to get fresh, new, creative clothing would pay a fee…the stores told the designers that they could make money selling tickets to their fashion shows, and that was it” (Germain). This essentially is what has been done to the music industry, where artists are expected to give music for virtually nothing and make money off touring only, which is unreasonable. Thus, there is an obvious imbalance in the system of the music industry and artists are frankly not being credited with the true value of their work, which many consumers, unless they read this article, would be oblivious to.
Furthermore, the article addresses the irony behind streaming is that “music is actually being enjoyed by more people in more places and played across more platforms (largely now digital) than ever before” which leaves the inevitable question, “So why aren’t songwriters compensated more fairly in the marketplace?” (Blacc). This implies that the music industry is not truly progressing and if anything, is actually regressing. Take Aloe Blacc for instance, who “In return for co-writing a major hit song, I’ve earned less than $4,000 domestically from the largest digital music service” (Blacc). Streaming is creating an inevitable situation where if famous, established artists are not bringing in income, how can one expect future new artists to break into the industry. Thus, it is creating an endless cycle, where up and coming artists can not break into the industry and older, established artists will be recycled, which consumers may grow tired of.
Consequently, new artists will have less incentive to follow their dreams and create music because of these barriers and the fact that they are making less money than ever before. The job alone will not be substantial enough to support themselves. Essentially, artists will not be able to fully commit to making music because they will not be financially equipped to and as Aloe Blacc points out, “If songwriters cannot afford to make music, who will?” (Blacc). While some may argue that streaming services give artists exposure, that isn’t necessarily the case all the time. Specifically, artists are being deterred from the music industry because of how difficult it is now for one to break into the music industry and even if one is lucky enough to make it, the subsequent lack of money coming from streaming will not keep an artist successful. Artists nowadays are expected solely to make their income off concerts, touring, or merchandise, which is insufficient. This brings forward the approaching dilemma: If less music is being made by artists, then those monthly subscriptions to streaming services will be useless and consumers will be dissatisfied.
Take Taylor Swift for example, who delayed the release of her album, 1989,to the streaming service Apple Music because of “Apple’s plan to not pay any royalties to artists or labels during Apple Music’s three-month free trial period” (Helman). This inevitably upset many fans and consumers of the streaming service, causing a backlash against the company. Apple Music had no other choice but to cave in and pay royalties during the free trials. Clearly, streaming services need artists or else the foundation of their business will collapse. The easy solution is paying them what they deserve and possibly increasing subscriptions, which is what Tidal, a streaming service owned by artists, implemented in their streaming plan after growing tired of other streaming services profiting off their hard work. The creation of this service was initiated with the hopes of “bringing fans and artists closer together and creating a sustainable industry model that values music and artists.” Compared to other popular streaming services that have their own personal interests in mind, Tidal aims to secure the future of music and artists by improving streaming conditions that are currently impairing artist’s ability to be successful.
From listening to music in the elevator to at a party, music is everywhere and is a crucial part of everyday life. It has gotten people through the worst of times, whether it’s a heartbreak or a death of a loved one, and the best of times, like maybe getting an A on your first English paper. It is a force that has the powers to heal, to motivate, and to create change. There is no question about the positive impact of music and it is scary to imagine a world without it. In order for music to continue to thrive and prosper, fans and artists must join forces to change the corrupted system of streaming services that is depreciating the value of music and discouraging new artists. It is clearly in dire need of a “tune-up.”
Blacc, Aloe. “Streaming Services Need to Pay Songwriters Fairly.” Wired, 5. Nov. 2014, https://www.wired.com/2014/11/aloe-blacc-pay-songwriters/.
Germain, Nora. “You Have No Idea How F****d Streaming Really Is.” Medium, 10 Dec. 2018, https://medium.com/@norafrancescagermain/you-have-no-idea-how-f-d-streaming-is-afabc7706e65.
Helman, Peter. “Read Taylor Swift’s Open Letter To Apple Music.” Stereogum, 22 June 2015, www.stereogum.com/1810310/read-taylor-swifts-open-letter-to-apple-music/news/.
“What Is TIDAL?” TIDAL, https://tidal.com/whatistidal/.