OnlineRock Blog

07 December 2011

Unlimited Access: The New Face of Music Consumption?

By Ana Diaz

In a recent NPR interview, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek stated that, despite the naysayers’ concern about the future of downloading music as a business, his streaming service was beneficial to the music industry. With over 10 million users, Spotify undoubtably brings artists and fans together all the time. Out of those 10 million or so users, only about 2.5 million pay for the service. 

Yet, according to Ek, those paying contribute more than three times as much as other listeners that buy music elsewhere. For those unfamiliar with Spotify, it is a free, subscription-based service that allows users to instantly stream a large catalogue of music from artists spanning all genres. Users that pay for the service are able to download songs and listen through mp3 players and smartphones. It is worth noting that although a user is able to play an album or song offline through Spotify, he or she is does not necessarily own the music. A major element of Spotify that Ek touts is that it combats piracy by allowing listeners to access music via legitimate means. Music piracy is a hot topic and is obviously not going away anytime soon, but free music streaming services are not necessarily a panacea.

Daniel Ek, CEO of Spotify

Before its official release to the general American public, I was able to procure a highly coveted invite to access Spotify this past summer. For the next week or so, I spent all of my free time browsing the massive music library and carefully compiling playlists. At times, it was almost overwhelming just because of the sheer amount of music I was able to access. In one form or another, I’ve always had this much music at my fingertips thanks to the wonders of the Internet. Yet, with services such as Spotify, are we consuming music merely for the sake of consumption? How does the listener’s relationship to music differ if it is accessed for free through Spotify or through piracy?

Most items on the Spotify front page are popular artists from major labels.

A few months after Spotify was released in the United States, the indie band Uniform Motion created a mini controversy in the blogosphere when it released figures measuring how Spotify paid artists compared to others. Uniform Motion’s numbers demonstrated that with Spotify musicians would only receive a negligible amount of pay for their music. An album played hundreds of times on Spotify would generate roughly the same revenue as one purchase on iTunes. 

Uniform Motion

In response to Spotify’s so-called shortcomings, some argue that streaming music services are not at fault for the numerous artists that fail to make money. This claim does indeed have merit because if nobody listens to your music then obviously nobody will pay for music they don’t listen to. Then again, if nobody listens to your music, nobody has much of an incentive to pirate your music. Also, Spotify pays the labels, not the artists directly. 

Unfortunately, when you have so much music at your fingertips, it is near impossible to wade through everything. Streaming music legally for free allows a listener to approach an album or artist without the commitment of buying something. If a listener loves it, her or she may buy it, or not. In some manner, piracy does the same thing. Both processes are potentially great for exposure but are also subject to the same conditions such as an artist’s popularity. In short, both forms of consumption don’t pay the artist well but have the ability to bring new fans. The days of going to record stores and buying physical albums are all but gone, yet free music streaming hasn’t quite fully taken over – yet.

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