The New Mainstream: Music Streaming

By Eashan Reddy Kotha

Sure, a few of us may be able to recall the last time we played a song on CD. Even fewer could say the last time they listened to a vinyl LP was just last weekend. But when was the last time you listened to an audio cassette? Does anyone even remember the Sony Walkman?

With an abundance of novel technologies at our disposal, it’s simply inconvenient to carry LPs, cassettes, and even CDs around.

Over the past decade, the music industry has transformed significantly. We now have Pandora, Soundcloud, Tidal, Google Music and most recently Amazon Music. Even Apple revamped its native music app with a completely catchy name: Apple Music.

Before we go further, I have to admit: when it comes to price, quality and a diverse selection, Spotify rules. Not that the alternatives are bad, but rather, they provide other enticing features.

Soundcloud is usually the primary source for underground music scenes and countless remixes. Tidal, a newcomer, has the advantage of  exclusive releases, notably Beyoncé’s “Lemonade,” Daft Punk’s film “Electroma,”  Rihanna’s “Anti,” and Kanye’s “The Life of Pablo.” Amazon Music is only really useful if you have Prime, but even then, the catalog is a measly one million songs to the 20 million plus offered by Spotify. Google Music recently expanded to iOS, but it doesn’t even offer a student discount.

However, Spotify offers a reasonable monthly fee, discounted further for students and a large selection of popular songs as well as more obscure tracks.

Streaming services not only let us access vast libraries of music, but have changed how we discover new music. Nowadays, we are only limited by data plans and WiFi spots if we want to listen to music on the go. Even then, some services like Spotify have an offline mode which enables streaming without an internet connection.

Streaming services benefit the music industry and millions of users around the world. Services adapt to your musical palate, and you can skip hearing the same five songs on the radio every day. Spotify even generates playlists based on a user’s taste, broadening their musical horizons. Users can share and recommend tracks to others as well. Streaming has simply made it easier to expose the masses to exciting, unnoticed artists.

In fact, streaming has quickly become more prominent than downloading music. According to Nielsen, 164.5 billion songs were streamed in 2014. By the end of 2015, the figure jumped to 317 billion streams. As a result of this robust growth, the industry doesn’t gauge an artist’s success solely on album sales anymore. Streams are counted as album equivalents by Billboard (1,500 streams equals one album).

Streaming services and corporations are taking advantage of this growing sector for marketing purposes. Marketers utilize instantly available data of users’ playlists and listening habits to target ads that align well with prospective consumers. The advantage is clear for these brands — they can efficiently reach target demographics more likely to buy their product. This is the reason why teens may occasionally hear ads for the latest horror movie or even various colleges. This sharply outpaces radio, where it’s relatively more difficult to know who exactly is listening.

Alas, while streaming services have expanded artists’ reach to a larger audience, there are some who are taking a stand against them. Taylor Swift, for example, refused to sell Spotify her albums. In the past, Swift also refused to make her albums available to Apple Music listeners. What’s the issue Swift and other songwriters have with streaming services? Money. Streaming services don’t fairly reimburse artists. Payment varies from $.006 to $.0084 per play, according to Spotify. Even with hundreds of thousands or even millions of plays, it would be extremely difficult to generate a steady flow of income from streaming music; it’s more like a trickle. However, it could be argued that easy access to an artist’s music is the trade-off. A larger audience provides potential for higher album and concert sales.

To anyone just starting to explore these streaming services, it may seem overwhelming. And it is. However, the influx of choices isn’t detrimental. They provide niche qualities that are more desirable to some than others. However, if you want to jump into the musical stream, start at Spotify and go from there.

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