2016 has been a year in which music has been a very interesting topic for two particular reasons. The first of which of course is the abundance of records that have come out but the second is the constant shift towards access over ownership and streaming growing larger and larger.
Spotify now has 40 million subscribers to premium accounts whilst Apple has 17 million. Other companies have entered the competition such as the well established Deezer, Rhapsody and Google Play with Amazon and Pandora having recently entered, but I think Spotify is the winner here and there is the assumption from some industry analysts that it will go public before long.
It is still being booed down by some artists but the argument is a very convoluted one. Streaming has ultimately killed piracy, that’s a good thing right? Payment is still at a low rate, but it is dependant on a major area, and that is whether you have a hit….most people don’t, but if you are in the top 50, you are earning more money than ever.
Some artists have taken advantage of the debate in an insidious way, namely Adele who held off Spotify for a cash grab and ended up streaming eventually. Frank Ocean’s exclusive with Apple was a tipping point, causing frustration amongst fans to which Lucian Grange refused any Universal act to sign an exclusive deal. Exclusives haven’t been much of a thing since.
And with that, the major record labels have reconsolidated their power. When I was in university, the belief was that independence was all to play for, but the tables turned in 2013. Still, never has the bar been so low to enter the game. You spend a couple of hundred on recording through your laptop, you set up a license with CD baby or Tunecore and boom! You’re in the digital world with your record. Just don’t expect to make a living from it!
But is the top 50 any good? Justin Beiber had the come back of come backs, credit to his manager Scooter Braun, and the record he made was one of huge hooks that enraptured teenagers if you are able to listen to him as a pragmatist and concede that. The charts were almost ubiquitously dominated by Electronically Dance Music and in my opinion it is for the most part banal, but once again, acting as a pragmatist, it is music that is reflective of the current culture. Life is hard, no-one knows what is going on, there is uncertainty, there is brexit, trump and inequality. Music provides an escape to which people just want to dance and have a good time!
But if you are not a casual listener, if music is something that you listen to in self reflection, introspection and sincerity, there was so much music on the periphery that provided just that. (My top picks to follow). That’s the music I look for, a mainstream with streams that meander off into their own unique beauty. Less people will listen, but they listen closer, they voice their passions louder. This is the music I search for and whilst people can choose to stream, they are buying vinyl too.
The baby boomer generation is dying out. First it was David Bowie, then Glen Frey, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Keith Emerson, Greg Lake and the list goes on. It is tremendously sad but their resonance and legacy is one that is enormous, all generations old and new are listening, remembering or discovering. These people pushed the boundaries, and our generation in all honesty needs to step up if we are to have a fraction of the same impact as they did. Maybe we are but in a way that includes more people in a frustum. Read this fantastic article by Seth Godin released at the start of the year, it made me look at the state of play with sheer optimism.
It is a fascinating time for music, and the truth is more people are listening than ever. When music hits you, it makes you feel alive and the means to do so is more wider than ever. Choose the best way for you, stream it, spin it but most importantly…