Recently, music listeners tend to lean more towards getting their music from streaming services than traditional hard copy purchasing or online purchasing of music. Streaming brings with it a lot of benefits, convenience being at the top of those benefits, but some downsides as well.
Music streaming entails playback of music from an online source and not from the device from which the music is being played. It depends entirely on internet connectivity, with some streaming services offering the option to "download" the music for offline playback. For the most part, streaming has replaced traditional hard copy distribution of music. In 2018, streaming accounted for just over 75% of music sales. That figure grew to 84.6% in 2019, according to Rolling Stone.
This changes things from a number of aspects; music production, music business and music consumption. For consumers of music, streaming brings the convenience of having the music right at your finger tips, a quick search away. For a fee of course.
The cost structure to the consumer is also another convenience. For a reasonable monthly fee, you get access to the archives of the streaming service you subscribe to. This could be a good deal if you enjoy discovering music, new and old. It could be a disadvantage if you're a casual listener looking to keep abreast with what's new.
Streaming has also significantly brought down the cost of distributing music, if not completely obliterated it in some instances. This makes it easier for independent artist to put their music out. The necessity for being backed by heavy machinery to get a wide reach is no longer there, hypothetically.
There are some downsides that come with streaming, though, depending on how one looks at it. For one, there is the fact that there is still uncertainty is exactly how much a stream is worth, even though compensation structures are in place. But that is not the point of focus for this article. Let's explore the demands of streaming on the average artist.
Music streaming can be seen as a form of social media on its own, given that streaming platforms have social interaction functionality. But, paired with social media platforms, specifically Twitter, both combine to form part of what's deemed as pop culture.
In pop culture, those that subscribe are required to be up to date with constituents of such a culture, new and old. References are thrown around in witty ways to make conversation and maybe to test others on how much in the know they are.
This has further led to a coordination of what to watch, what to wear and what to listen to. And for this reason, streaming services benefit a lot from the existence of pop culture in its current form. Users rush to be among the first to watch a movie/series or listen to a new song or album. All so that they can participate in the near-real-time discussion and analysis that follows. This brings with it a lot of people that will watch or listen only once just so they can also participate in the conversation. They listen just to say they've heard it.
Producers and streaming services being aware of this, use it to their advantage by playing a game of first week figures/opening figures. But this is not equally beneficial to both. Producers, music artists in this instance bear the brunt of the work that has to go in.
This occurrence in pop culture means that artists have to put some effort towards the replay value of their product. In the South African context, still have to balance that with the high cost of data. Songs become shorter and albums follow suit. To get the figures they saw in their first week of release, they would have to release another project which would see the same consumption profile; peaking at first week and steadily declining afterwards. It should be kept in mind that there are exceptions to this cycle.
According to RISA, 120 streams make up the sale of one single and one album sale requires 1200 streams. Artist should either have a big following, sustained replay from core fanbase or be considered as compulsory pop culture homework. This dynamic will be unpacked in a subsequent article.
Streaming services then further capitalise on this requirement for large volumes of releases from artists. By paying a small amounts for streams, artists have to take up large numbers to see significant income. The reality of all of this is made vivid by a statement from Spotify CEO Daniel EK, in an interview with Music Alley. He states that it's not enough for an artist to put out one album in a period of four year, which was not so uncommon in the previous era of music distribution.
In effect, streaming is a numbers game that hinges on a number of factors. Some of which could be in favour of less popular artists or prove to be at their disadvantage when compared to traditional music sales.
To be continued...