In 2004 the WIRED director Chris Anderson in the famous article “The Long Tail”, told us with great optimism that streaming would overturn our notions of supply and demand, creating a “long tail” in which non-successes would have obtained a greater share. than they ever had before.
In the hangover of the rise of the internet, we all naively believed in it: the Internet and digital would bring more democracy to the world of music! a musical landscape in which all artists had an equal chance to become great.
But if the doors of access to an infinite catalog opened for all passionate music consumers, and streaming offered a utopian free-for-all with an inviting upgrade of a $ 9.99 per month fee, for artists the evolution was very different.
Many artists had believed it. They learned to use computers and programs to make songs and albums at affordable prices.
Thanks to the web, in front of them there were no longer the intermediaries and filters of the discography that chose which talents to invest in, but only the public.
That audience would have saved every artist, finally giving them the right space.
After 16 years, the great promise of democratic access and greater freedom of choice has materialized only for the public of users.
In 2008, Spotify arrived in addition to other streaming platforms, and in the space of 12 years, it changed the world of music.
There is nothing left to download or buy, but an enormous wealth of “liquid music” to listen to when and how much you want. Those who want to pay for a subscription and listen to everything, those who do not pay and sign up for free suffer advertising and some limitations. A marvel, or so it seemed.
Today, when compact discs are sold less and less and the vinyl market, even if growing, is making small numbers, all that remains is streaming.
Spotify users are growing: “as of June 2020 it is used every month by 299 million people, of which 138 million are paying users”. In the last quarter of 2019, it grossed € 1.86 billion, but the costs to increase subscribers were huge and annual losses increased.
But the public is happy. As Spotify’s CEO Daniel Ek said, “an average of 40 thousand songs arrives on Spotify every month”.
What does not come instead is the earnings for the artists. Or rather: the money arrives, but only to a few.
According to a Musically article, the average earnings of an artist each time we stream one of their songs is $ 0.00318! The percentage varies. In the sense that the more important you are, the more you earn.
According to a study conducted by Alpha Data and recently published in the American magazine “Rolling Stone”, «1% of artists monopolize 90% of streaming listeners».
Furthermore, «90% of the artists present on the music streaming platforms (Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Deezer, Google Play Music, etc.) Are listened to by 0.6% of the audience.
With the result that «about half of the musicians do not reach the threshold of 100 audio listenings».
Add to this that, when the coronavirus pandemic cut off the possibility of touring for sure for 2020, cash-strapped musicians lost their safest way to make money.
Streaming revenue has always been very small for many indie musicians, but it’s now one of the few available sources of income, along with sales of merchandise, physical records.
According to the artists, the pandemic is only exacerbating the inequities of a rigged system against the people who make it work.
In this dire situation, musicians are organizing through trade unions and other advocacy groups to fight for larger payments from streaming platforms.
Today, streaming only works for established artists, whose music is regularly recommended because diluting the value of a single streaming stream is offset by an increase in streams.
But for artists who aren’t recommended and don’t have visibility on the platform, it means their streams are worth a lot less.
For musicians facing an undeniably attractive and increasingly dominant technology that threatens to usurp their livelihoods, resistance may seem pointless.
It would be foolish to pretend that streaming isn’t a great service from a listener’s point of view, or that it will only go away because it doesn’t feel right.
Just talk to many musicians and most of them criticize streaming, but they still publish their songs and albums on streaming services and are subscribers themselves.
But for now, the streaming model for now only rewards the greats and those who have their backs covered.
For all the other artists the democracy that digital was supposed to bring to music is not only far away but has even vanished.
Perhaps one way to fix things is for “all musicians to take control of their own destiny” and move away from mass streaming to start something new.
Who knows we will see what will happen but it is undeniable that the current situation is not sustainable and therefore will have to change.