Though the music industry may seem like a well-oiled machine, operating on every platform consumers are interested in, its initial move onto the digital scene was far from the capitalist dream it may appear to be today…
The early 2000’s was the advent of digital piracy, by this I mean the act of downloading copyrighted material such as movies, music and games onto your computer from a website or programme. It was perhaps one of the first times that entertainment companies and governments alike realised the potential anarchy that the internet could house if not properly monitored or moderated.
Free online services like Napster (offering the sharing of songs from computer to computer) thrived in the unpoliced world until it was sued by artists such as Metallica and Dr. Dre as well as a few record companies. Though Napster closed its illegal doors in 2001, (ironically it is now a legal streaming service itself after being bought by Rhapsody) piracy is still alive and well today, but something has been able to make people not want to use such illegitimate means of obtaining their music.
This praised pirate killer is streaming services such as Spotify
– offering unlimited listening to a huge bank of songs and artists instantaneously for a monthly fee. Most of these services also offer free trials or versions that contain adverts every few songs or limited listening. Previously, it was seemingly very easy to get your hands on a few songs or even an album from illegal pirate websites, (though in the early day’s internet speeds were not too great, meaning you may have to wait hours or more for your desired torrent, however this slowly became less of a problem over the years) but streaming services are built for accessibility with dedicated servers bringing you literal tidal waves, if you’ll excuse the pun, of music within seconds. Suddenly all that searching for a quick and safe download doesn’t seem so tempting…
It seems as if streaming services became a saviour for copyright infringement, but if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. For the consumer we see no issue, we pay a fee and get access to all the music we could wish for through legal means. I say legally because royalties go to the artist every time one of their songs is streamed. Streaming companies pay these royalties to the rights holders from the money they generate from adverts and the membership payments from customers – the issue is how much they pay the owners of the music. The main offender you’ll see most people cite is the biggest, most successful streamer: Spotify. The Swedish company seems to pay out so little that, in 2014, Taylor Swift
made the move to pull her discography from Spotify. For such a big artist to do this was a bold move and her high status did bring this out as a problem to the world.
In 2017, though, it seems that Taylor Swift and other artists who boycotted Spotify have had to bend the knee, so to speak, and give their work up to the company. Swift released a statement on twitter on the 9th June 2017 that “In celebration of 1989 [Swift’s fifth studio album] selling over 10 million albums worldwide…Taylor wants to thank her fans by making her entire back catalogue to all streaming services”. Seemingly as a gift to her fans, though as some Twitter users pointed out in reply to her tweet, they still must pay to access these services in their full capacity… It’s not doubtful to assume that she would have been under a lot of pressure on this topic from her record label and her own team as much of her fellow pop stars and competition would be more accessible to a wider audience than she would.
Streaming has only got bigger and bigger in the few years that she was not on streaming services, but unfortunately, it seemed that the pay for artists was remaining relatively low, reportedly between $0.006 and $0.0084 per play. Other artists have also felt the pressure, such as The Black Keys in 2016, who had a similar stance to Swift on the matter, also put their music on Spotify after five years of avoiding it out of disagreement with the company. The consensus of the band and others alike is that it is surely better to have your music where millions can hear it easily – as in the end, listeners are what keep artists alive.
In the past, recorded music was the largest part of the music industry, but that is changing – perhaps partly due to Spotify. A lot of the money is switching to come from the live shows, merchandise, TV rights and all the other ways we love to consume our favourite artists. It’s hard to accept – with it being reported that the largest record labels remain on month-by-month contracts and negotiations with Spotify. Streaming did help put a stop to widespread piracy, but before it could shake hands with the companies it aided, it created more problems for them.