Recently, I became a Spotify Premium user
This was provided to me as a perk of my Phone contract.
Now, I have dabbled in streaming before, but, my heart has always been with CDs. I have posted before about my love for physical media, but in summary, I both love having the physical article, and the flexibility to the rip the CD to my computer and carry it with me on my phone. The best of both worlds.
So, streaming is mostly new to me, and I will admit to being sceptical. I am writing this blog from the point of view of both a music lover, and an artist with music “out there” for consumption.
First up – Yes, you can stream James Nighthawk on Spotify, Rdio, Pandaro, etc….
When I launched my album, I wanted the largest possible number of people to have access. People that want to ‘buy’ my music can purchase my CD or download the MP3. Those that prefer to ‘rent’ their music, can stream my songs.
But let’s be clear here. As a small-fry Independent artist, my earnings from Streaming services are, well, puny. For now, at least. Spotify and their ilk employ a pay-per-play scheme. And the pay is a fraction of a penny. Suffice to say, only the multi-million streamers are making bank from these services. And, as Ms Taylor Swift has brought to the fore of mainstream press recently, even the big guns are getting shy.
This blog isn’t a complaint, however. Yes, it would be nice to earn more, no-one is denying this. But there are myriad arguments that Spotify is not a stand in for lost sales. Moreover, it is perhaps the new radio. Or the new YouTube. Or the new companion to Soundcloud. Or, most poignantly, the end of piracy.
The train of thought is thus – if people don’t want to buy, they won’t buy. But if streaming is free, they’ll hit play, and hopefully tell their pals. File sharing nowadays is so simple that people can steal things if they want. Perhaps a few pennies is better than none whatsoever?
It is warming to see that the mass market does care though. Two newsworthy articles of late – the backlash/support of Taylor Swift’s retreat from Spotify, and in the Bibliophile world, the recent announcement of “Kindle Unlimited” (a streaming service of sorts for books) have led to media discussions about how much the artist gets paid. It would be more concerning if people didn’t care. Yes; the super rich at the top are hard to feel sorry for, but they are only a fraction of the people earning from the music industry. The underlings that support their careers need to get paid too. As do us tiny, independent artists.
Let’s be positive for a while.
Streaming is easy access. One of the best features, now I have a decent 4G phone (or ‘LTE’ to you transatlantic folk!) I can listen to anything the instant it comes to mind or someone recommends it. This is amazing. For example, my Twitter feed was ablaze with talk of Pink Floyd’s new LP. Within moments, I was listening. Of course, easy access may mean we are less inclined to buy – more on this later.
Streaming and downloads in general have caused an Indie explosion. Like with the videogaming world, removing the barrier of entry of physical product – the overheads inherent with making and distributing product – has meant smaller artists can get their music “out-there”. The market can then decide what succeeds. Well, that is the dream, anyhow.
Easy access also means more potential fans. Like all Indie artists, I lack a decent advertising budget, so anything lowering the barrier of entry is welcomed. More fans should equal more gig goers, and growth all around.
Streaming may, simply, be the way music is going. Ownership may be outmoded. I personally think they will co-exist for some time, and not only due to the legacy of older folk wanting to “stick with what they know”. Movies and television series are going the same way, with Netflix and their competitors in a boom right now. I will admit, I no longer watch television nor do I buy DVDs. But, then I am not really a film or TV person, so a Netflix subscription and BBC iPlayer are more than enough for my televisual needs.
Quality is a concern; as a music producer and sound addict I have some thoughts from my initial time with Spotify. This is the audiophile part here – do skip ahead a paragraph if the science of sound makes you sleepy! The basic point is that, mostly, the Spotify quality is excellent. The streaming options include very high bitrates, and I have never had buffering issues. However, my one concern is that some of the albums I have queued up have peaking/clipping issues. This tends to be in the softer albums from acoustic artists. The louder parts have very audible, repeatable clips on crescendos. This is either (a) due to shoddy submissions from the labels or (b) a problem with the limiter algorithms on Spotify’s end. I have read that Spotify uses high-end Limiters as normalisers to keep levels consistent between songs. Alas, such algorithms are not perfect, and will damage some music. Unfortunately, none of the Apps I use have the option to turn them off, so I am stuck with some ‘broken’ albums.
Spotify as “the new radio” is an interesting proposition. You don’t own any of the music. But you do have instant access to all of it. This is, for some people, effective ownership and sufficient for their needs. For others, like me, if I really like the music, I will still jump online and order the CD. Madness? Possibly…
A nod must be given here to Soundcloud. Soundcloud is a different but very interesting beast. Don’t know it? Shame on you! Soundcloud is twitter for music. You sign up, follow artists, and their music is available to you in your stream and library. The great thing is that the artists own and manage their Soundcloud account – their music, whenever they want to share it, with full community features. Soundcloud, like YouTube in some ways, is the social media of music.
(Cough… www.soundcloud.com/jamesnighthawk …cough…)
Time will tell whether streaming will be the end point for the modern music industry. But for now, if you really like the artist, get to the gigs, buy a CD, a download, and enthuse to all you know. Many sites I have read during my research mention how important “spreading the word” is for fans unable or unwilling to purchase.
Music needs the passion from both the artist and the fan, however you consume.