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Wednesday
Feb272019

Is The Proliferation Of Indie Streaming Platforms Hurting Unsigned Artists?

When major streaming platforms are fighting to build a monopoly on the music business, one which will allow them to dictate how the general public should consume music and basically who should be listened to, helped by AI algorithms that are heavily biased towards big artists from contractual and financial ties to their labels, for unsigned artists the deal is impossibly bad and will continue to be, so it might be argued that this is a clear case for alternative/independent solutions.

The landscape

Once there was MySpace, then it faded out, we now have Bandcamp, which is probably the most ethical of them all, despite some shortcomings, or you have SoundCloud or ReverbNation, which are plagued with being platforms for artists where very little actual listening by the general public is happening, because the name of the game is “play for play” or “follow for follow” the good old “scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” type of numbers game that is the bane of all social media platforms.
A lot more independent actors have been entering the field in recent years, but the problem is that nowadays there is a proliferation of alternative indie platforms. It has become such a crowded landscape that for both the platforms themselves and the artists it’s getting harder and harder to break through… 
The dilution of the actual catalog of available music on these platforms as well as the public’s ability to subscribe to any of them, let alone all, is reduced, meaning that the chance for any of them to become the next big thing that will efficiently promote new music and a new landscape is small, and getting thinner by the day.
In the end too much alternative might just mean no alternative.

The issues

Indeed these indie platforms have a number of issues:
  • they all have a limited catalog of artists and music that does not overlap with others, meaning they provide a narrowed view of the indie scene.
  • most allow free streaming/listening, which means that no money again is generated for the artists, and of course when listeners can get music for free, they really have no incentive to go and buy the music. 
  • to supposedly address this issue, there is a new breed of platforms pretending to use the miracles of blockchain technology to generate money out of thin air, (while listeners are still not paying anything), but in the end, what they are really paying is just another form of monkey money that is difficult to exchange and will amount to nothing once the fad has faded and the artificially inflated “coins” values have disappeared.
  • other platforms are only allowing streaming after a registration process, but then it’s hard to find real listeners willing to create accounts on a platform that has only a fraction of the music available, and is basically an unkwown when it comes to privacy and security, let alone functionalities.
  • and then a lot of platforms have questionable terms and conditions including damning copyright waivers, asking artists to grant “worldwide, unlimited, royalty free, irrevocable, perpetual license” to the platform to “use, copy, edit, transmit, exploit” without limitation, including sublicense to any affiliate corporation, etc. When you read closely some of these terms and conditions, it’s pretty scary how broad and all encompassing they are, basically giving platforms every possible right over artists’ uploaded content.
That’s a lot of shortcomings, especially faced with the corporate behemoths who are raking the plays and eating the market with seemingly irresistible offers. What’s better than free and unlimited, right?

So what’s the answer?

I can’t think of an easy one, but when it comes to beating the big streaming corporations in their course towards monopoly, I would think that the first rule of order is for unsigned artists to remove their music from corporate streaming and stop promoting links to them, I did that already to show the way, and because I like to walk the walk, see https://ghostlybeard.com/blog/blog/opting-out
Then it would seem that the only way forward is for a worldwide coalition of independent artists to form and elect one platform, put pressure on that platform to adopt ethical and sustainable practices, and for all members of that coalition to push their music on that platform, promote it as the one stop shop where the new music is going to emerge from, while educating their fans to the issue of the streaming world while they are at it.
Easier said than done because artists are isolated, often uncaring about their own rights, and generally disorganized, all of which comes from a long time natural wariness when it comes to any entity made to represent them - we can thank big labels for that, along with unscrupulous “promoters”. But of course this is something that the big corporate platforms are counting upon to push their agenda and crush the competition. 
So, I really wonder what independent union could raise to the occasion?

 

Ghostly Beard is a multi-instrumentalist/songwriter/producer from Montreal, Canada, part of the unsigned community, who is often writing about issues in the music industry and denouncing various pitfalls that indie artists encounter in their music journey on his blog.

Is The Proliferation Of Indie Streaming Platforms Hurting Unsigned Artists?

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