The Problems with Music Streaming
From records, to cassette tapes, to CDs, methods of music consumption have evolved vastly and continue to do so today. Undoubtedly, music streaming is the future of music consumption with countless different companies currently offering their streaming services in a variety of different manners. According to Nielsen’s 2015 year-end Music report, streaming services doubled since 2014 to an astounding 317 billion streams. Music streaming allows listeners to listen to their favorite songs on demand, discover new music, create and consume playlists, on and on. Still, for all the good that comes from music streaming, there are many problems that also arise.
For the most part, music streaming is great for the consumer. For little to no cost, subscribers have immediate access to millions of songs on a simple, easy to use platform. However, for every winner, there must be a loser. In the case of music streaming, the artist, as well as the songwriters, producers, mixers, and others involved in the creative aspects of each song, are the clear losers. More often than not, artists are getting paid very little, if anything, for the streaming of their songs on platforms like Spotify and Pandora. For example, Lady Gaga’s manager, Troy Carter, came out and stated that Gaga has never gotten paid for the millions of streams she has accumulated on Spotify. In June 2015, Taylor Swift notoriously received backlash for writing an open letter to Apple Music in which she stated that she would not release her album, “1989,” on their streaming service due to their free 3 month trial policy during which writers, producers, and artists are not paid. While many perceived this as a selfish move, as Swift is one of the wealthiest contemporary artists, she explained herself stating:
“This is not about me…This is about the new artist or band that has just released their first single and will not be paid for its success. This is about the young songwriter who just got his or her first cut and thought that the royalties form that would get them out of debt. This is about the producer who works tirelessly to innovate and create…”
While Swift’s letter was ultimately successful in changing Apple Music’s payment policy, the general consensus seems to be that these services are short-changing the creative geniuses behind all of the music. Countless artists have since expressed their discontent from will.i.am questioning Vevo and YouTube to Pink Floyd attacking Pandora for tricking artists. With these payment issues, more artists are inevitably going to continue demanding a change in this streaming system.
As Beck stated in an interview with Argentinian Pàgina/12:
“Streaming is inevitable, it’s something that is coming, like it or not. But I question how I can hang on or stay afloat with this model, because what Spotify pays me isn’t enough for me to pay the musicians I work with, or the people producing or mastering my music. This model doesn’t work, so we have to come up with ways in which people can help us to make music for free, or at least for much less. But the current way isn’t working, something’s gotta give.”
Beck is completely correct. The current system of music streaming is unsustainable. Musicians like Adele, the 1975, Jason Aldean, and many others have already begun pulling their music from different streaming services as a message of their discontent. Unfortunately, this is also not a very viable solution for the artists or the fans. When Kanye West limited the release of his most recent album, “The Life Of Pablo”, solely to Tidal, the album did not end up charting on the Billboard charts. This does not mean people were not listening to it, they were simply illegally downloading the album from torrent sites or finding other ways of listening that were not profiting West. Clearly, there is no way for artists to work around the system in a profitable way, and it is only a matter of time before they come together to change the system.
Role of Metadata in Streaming
As artists, songwriters, producers, and others continue demanding a fair pay out from music streaming services, music metadata is going to play a highly important role. As Annie Lin thoroughly describes in her article on hypebot.com, song licensing has a highly complicated structure in which song ownership is divided amongst many different groups. Lin writes, “No single comprehensive database of song ownership metadata exists, which means that identifying the owner of any single song requires a hunt-and-peck search across multiple limited proprietary databases.” Companies are starting to realize how important it is for them to fairly pay artists, otherwise highly profitable artists will continue withholding their music. Sony Music, for example, is giving their artists access to their streaming data by creating an app in which artists can see their daily streaming earnings, as well as the demographic of people listening to their music. Eventually, music companies are going to have to create databases of metadata that include all of the participants and owners of any given track in order to be able to accurately pay individuals. This is where companies like Quantone Music will be extremely helpful, as they are generating databases that contain the elaborate information that details every track. It is a time consuming, but very necessary next step in the music streaming world.
Music streaming is not going anywhere soon, but in order for all parties involved to be satisfied, changes need to be made quickly. Streaming companies need to actively decide to give all participants a fair cut of their profit in order for artists to continue releasing their music to these entities. Otherwise, artists will continue withholding music or limiting it to platforms like Tidal where they are paid fairly. With the help of music metadata databases, this can be a very smooth and efficient process.