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Thursday
May122011

Winner Takes All - If We Let Them

What is this weary feeling I get when I read so much of the commentary around at the moment about music streaming, and the replacement of the desire to own music with the ‘ease of access’?

It’s not just about the fact that the easy access to a vast ocean of music leads to choice paralysis and a lack of involvement and appreciation. It’s that there seems to be this big push towards paying a subscription for an ‘all you can eat’ style streaming service … ONE service … whichever one wins the battle for hearts and minds, or should we say ears and wallets. 

Inevitably, this kind of idea means that the ‘consumer’ would end up choosing just one of these services, because the whole point about them is that the service has ‘everything’ on it … all the music in the world, supposedly. So there’s zero point in trying to get that from more than one provider. It’s a ‘winner takes all’ game from the streaming service’s point of view.

For a long time now I haven’t been able to exactly pinpoint my discomfort with this mega-streaming concept. Obviously, as an artist myself, one aspect that concerns me is the visibly minute amounts paid to the artists. These absurdly low rates, which have not been widely publicised, would perhaps not be so bad if streaming served as a promotional tool to drive music sales. 

But the fact remains that, in most cases, these streaming subscriptions will eradicate peoples’ need to buy music at all. Thus leaving artists to scrabble around for alternative sources of income from brand sponsorships or T-shirt and tchotchke sales. I’m not knocking the idea of selling a bit of band merch, but it just seems undignified, unartistic, and kind of cheesy, if it is the sole income activity. Has rock n’ roll really come to this?

I know that live music is also being touted as the saviour of artists’ income, but I’m pretty sure that most musicians view this option with the scepticism born of real experience. It’s true that some acts can definitely make touring work for them financially, but it’s questionable whether touring can work for the majority of little-known bands (ie. the majority of ALL bands). 

And is it just me, or is anyone else disturbed by the concept of constant carbon-emitting travel being touted as the future of the music business in this era of climate change? Not to mention the looming spectre of the peak oil scenario. But let’s not go there! 

The resurgence of vinyl is also being hailed as a solution to the problem of how artists will generate an income. It’s admittedly exciting to see vinyl making a comeback, but realistically it will always be a minority market in this digital world. And for emerging artists, getting vinyl pressed and distributed is more expensive and problematic than many can afford.

The cannibalization of download sales is a big reason why I’m wary of this streaming trend, but there’s always been something else niggling at me … and gradually it’s dawning on me what my problem is with it all. 

It’s that it’s so centralized and massive … so juggernaut and behemoth-like. It’s ultimately all so CORPORATE. The one mega-streaming service, enabling mindless mass consumption. It can’t end up being anything other than a major corporation, with the successful service beating all the others and gobbling them all up. Good old monopoly capitalism again - hurray! All we can eat, while the artist starves.

Why do we really need this, as the future of music? Why do we need to ‘commodify’ music? 

We don’t have to go down this path at all. We could enjoy the natural cottage-industry fragmentation of the internet and rejoice in its diversity. We could celebrate the demise of the monopolies and the massive might of the majors. We could delight in the boundless opportunities for the ‘little guy’ at last, having fun while we surf around a multitude of colourful small sites on the net. We could revel in the warm feeling of supporting small businesses and individuals around the globe, as we happily pay for their services.

Or we could say, F*** that, I just want as much music as I can get, with no effort, for as little money as possible.

 

About the author:

Catherine Hol is a singersongwriter, based in Ireland.

Her artist name is Catrin Hol. She’s currently working on her debut album.

You can find her on Twitter:  @Artistsownmusic

Reader Comments (3)

Brilliant, thank you Catherine. Your point re Peak Oil and travel is well taken, i've been trying to discuss this for years with musicians, who generally have no idea what is going on. It's especially relevant to american musicians who don't play commercial music, and need to perform in Europe, where audiences are more open...how do you justify the carbon spew of transatlantic flight? As stated in George Monbiot's excellent book "Heat"..you can't, and there isn't a way around it. The problems that are coming via climate change make this look like small potatoes though.

May 12 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Pazdan

Thanks for your comment, John. I'm glad you're switching people on to the Peak Oil issue - it does need thinking about, IMO. And agreed, re. your last point.

Here's a link to a similar discussion :)
http://www.hypebot.com/hypebot/2011/07/a-contrarian-view-spotify-streaming-music-will-not-replace-purchase-or-piracy.html

July 21 | Unregistered CommenterI Wonder

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