Music in 2016.

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…

Experience it.

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Your Turn Challenge day 3 – The Spotify vs. Musical Artist conundrum

Day 3 – Write about something that you think should be improved

What truly defines the value of something? What really are the principle things that should be considered when anyone is paid a certain amount for what they do or a product is sold for a certain amount for what it is?

That is a pretty complicated question isn’t it? Things like that are incredibly nuanced but for most industries, it is a manageable question, from the price of coffee or designer clothing to the housing market and financial sector (without disregarding the obligatory bureaucracy)

Music on the other hand has in recent years taken that whole concept to another level and I have lost count about the amount of times that I have debated the issue or re-evaluated where I stand on the whole subject. Especially when the digital technology industry is moving so fast.

Over the last year, I have invested a lot of time into experimenting and mulling over ways in which I release and format my music. I use three main ways to distribute my music. My label undertakes one way and I deal with other two (I am very lucky to have a situation where everything is transparent and I have the option of distributing myself). The first way is through Bandcamp where I engage directly with my audience and the second is through a licensing company called Tunecore, which release my music to Itunes, Spotify and any other company willing to spare me a penny when my music gets played.

I was very reluctant to put up my music on Spotify and said streaming companies initially but eventually decided it was the best option to promote and advertise my first full-length release. I have countless spreadsheets of analytical data but if there were one thing I wish I could retrieve, it would be who out of the people listened to my music on Spotify, decided to buy a physical copy of my album. I would feel that then, I actually have some determination of how effective streaming companies are as a platform for discovery.

This is where the problem lies; streaming is a very grey area in terms of how music artists are paid. Taylor Swift and Thom Yorke are two figureheads to have spoken out about it and preceded to strip their catalogue from the service. Without, dwelling too far into the subject though, there is one fundamental improvement that needs to be made from both the streaming company and the artist: and that is attitude.

The attitude of streaming companies

It has been publicly stated that an artist is paid $0.007 per stream of a song. Over one year, I earned just under $20 for 3000 streams. What do you think of that payment? I’ll be frank, it comes across as approved piracy to me.

Spotify recently hit back at the criticism of Thom Yorke and Taylor Swift by stating that it has collectively paid out 500 million to artists in the last year. However, their argument disregards one major thing, and that is the fact that major labels tie in with this with deals that are not necessarily relative to the $0.007 per stream and a lot of the payouts would be to past catalogues, suggesting that there is a massive gap between those who get paid sufficiently and independent artists who don’t. I did do some research on Spotify’s explanation on how it pays artists, and only ended up feeling a bit more perplexed about the whole thing.

http://www.spotifyartists.com/spotify-explained/

Whilst I am still confused enough to be unable hold an opinion that streaming companies are The Devil, I do question its sense of middle ground, and that’s where attitude needs to improve. Streaming companies need to make paying artists fairly and sufficiently a priority as they continue to grow.

In full perspective, it is still early days for streaming, and whether artists like it or not, it is rapidly on the rise, so we have to accept the reality.

The attitude of artists

Having said that about Spotify, I think a lot of the resentment and bitterness from some artists is misplaced and the attitude needs from us can be improved to some extent. Ultimately, as the artist, you have control over how you choose to format your music, you also have control over how you engage with your audience and communicate with them and add a sense of value to the art you display. Just because you release music, does not necessarily mean you have to stream it. The most important thing for any musician to remember when they are out there in the world trying to make music for a living is that music owes you nothing. One of the best artists in recent years to have embraced the new age of music is Imogen Heap. This wonderful woman has enlightened me with a big streak of positivity and I recommend any aspiring musician drowning in cynicism to read her story for a change in perspective.

There can be a simpler answer to the question initially asked.

What truly defines the value of something? You do.