Imagining Digital Music's Perfect World
Yanez worries that more artists will follow Taylor Swift's lead and pull their music from the streaming service, though she believes this is their right.
Aside from the limits to Spotify's library, offline listening has also been a problem for her on long drives when she doesn't plan ahead. She expects other services to compete with her current preference, though, and she's willing to think big about what tomorrow might hold ("chips in our ears or brains?").
"The only thing I know for sure is that I love music so much, it gets me through my days, it comforts me, it excites me," Yanez writes in an email. "And when I can't listen it frustrates me."
With Apple poised to roll out a full fledged streaming music offering of its own sometime soon, the battle between streaming and downloads will effectively be over. So it's worth taking stock of what, exactly, would be the ideal streaming experience for listeners like Yanez, as well as for the artists and labels whose music makes the whole system possible.
Spotify, which now counts 15 million paying subscribers, has used the 40 million mark as a magic number for when it will be paying a more traditional amount to musicians. The suggestion, essentially, is that scale is the key to creating a world where everybody gets what they want.
With that in mind, NPR asked a wide range of people, well, what they want through crowd sourcing and traditional interviews and also collected commentary about streaming from public statements by musicians and others.
Listeners who responded to our crowdsourcing questions about their streaming utopia weren't, by and large, asking for science fiction.
High quality audio was one common desire, as was improved cover art work and liner notes, but more often perfection looked like a matter of minor tweaks.
Laura Whitehead, a 31 year old high school teacher from Baltimore, Md., has had a $10 a month Spotify subscription for two or three years, and her only complaint is that she can't control playlists on her phone baby pandora charm as well as on her computer "par for the course with most apps," she tells NPR in an email.
"When I'm tired of something or I don't want it anymore, I just delete it without feeling like I've wasted my money," Whitehead says. "To be honest I'd probably pay a little more."
Price, of course, hasn't become less of an object for all. For Hana Sambur, a streaming utopia would unite unlimited music from currently disparate music platforms, whether Spotify or Soundcloud. And it would do so at a rate that makes sense for her as a 21 year old international student from Indonesia, studying at the University of Washington.
"A $7.50 per month fee, I think, is reasonable, as it recognizes the ethical responsibility of paying back musicians who worked hard for their art," she writes in an email.
Among musicians, accustomed to disappointing royalties statements from streaming and a lack of artistic control over the format, a perfect world for digital music may be harder to imagine.
Jay Z's contentious rollout of his recently acquired high end streaming service Tidal signals his streaming utopia might prioritize lossless audio, plus an ownership stake for artists at least, the most established ones. 1 hit "Wake Me Up!" by Avicii. Bjrk, in a recent Fast Company interview, praised the Netflix model, saying that perhaps music, like cinema, should be a physical experience before it's available for streaming.
For musicians at a more modest level, trading the old record industry for new streaming overlords can be a case of "meet the new boss, the same as the old boss."
"The big issue is finding something that is actually 'artist friendly' and not just 'music business friendly,'" emails Casey Dienel, who has recorded three albums as White Hinterland. "I'm tired of the rhetoric that streaming will ballast the fallout of the recording industry an industry that has a checkered past when it comes to exploitation charm necklace australia and trust issues with artists to begin with."
Dienel worries about artists' control over the listening experience, not only their compensation. Comparing the current streaming process to "buying pre packaged ground beef in the store," she envisions a utopia where listeners could gain a deeper knowledge of their music's sources and context. Specifically, she praises EMA's 2014 digital zine Back to the Void, released through the web platform New Hive, and the online setup of Nicolas Jaar, whose Other People label offers its own $10 a month subscription service.
Rebecca Gates, a solo musician and arts advocate who formerly led the '90s indie rock band The Spinanes, voices similar suspicions about industry forces. She's putting out her own music now and has chosen not put it on Spotify, although she suggests she'd be open to starting her own small subscription service for fans on her email list.
"Who is benefiting the most?" she asks of the current streaming landscape. "It's huge corporations. It's a wealth and data grab."
Fred Thomas, an indie pop stalwart who recently released the solo album All Are Saved, remembers seeing new faces at shows but selling fewer records during a 2010 tour of Sweden, when Spotify was available in Europe but not yet in the United States.
"All the different streaming services it's a joke," he says in an email. "How could one possibly be better than another? It's all free music that almost never sees any money coming back to the artist unless they're world famous."
Sharky Laguana, who led the '90s and early '00s indie rock band Creeper Lagoon, urges a change in how streaming companies calculate royalties.
Currently, in what Laguana describes as a "pari mutuel" system, Spotify takes about a 30% share of its total income, and musicians (often via labels or another intermediary) receive a cut of the rest that's based on their percentage of the service's overall plays. Every listen ends up counting for the same amount of money, whether a given subscriber listened to 10 songs in a month or 1,000.
In a Medium post last November, Laguana proposed shifting to a system based on "subscriber share," where only the artists that a subscriber listens to would split up the royalties paid out from that subscriber's monthly fee. "The fairest measure of value is whatever the subscriber decided to do with the resources that were given for them with the money they paid," he tells NPR. "If I listen to Led Zeppelin 25% of the time, Led Zeppelin gets 25% of my money."
Streaming, however utopian, isn't yet the end all, be all for all types of artists. While streaming tends to be more convenient for his younger fans than his jewelry armoire older ones, both cohorts seek out Ritter's physical albums and live shows "as a mile marker in their relationship with him as an artist," says his manager, Darius Zelkha, of Tough Love Artist Management. "In that sense, we're lucky to have a fan base that toes the line here."
In general, though, the line Zelkha describes is clearly moving. As the number of people willing to pay for a streaming services rises, it makes sense that the number who are willing to pay for physical albums will dwindle. At the very least, sales of CDs which last year, at 141 million units, were down 82% from their 2000 level, according to Nielsen Music would be set for a continued slide. (By comparison, vinyl album sales in 2014, despite hitting an historic high, totaled only 9.2 million copies.)
From a label perspective, larger outfits are betting the current streaming system could evolve into a flourishing ecosystem.
"An ideal streaming world would be one where there are dozens upon dozens of different kinds of unique services for fans to choose from, and all pay fair market rates to music creators while sustaining thriving businesses," says Cara Duckworth, a spokesperson for the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which represents the major labels. "Fans are happy, artists earn a healthy return and labels can invest in artists.
Streaming is still a nascent business. We're confident we can pandora wife charm get there.".
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