Opinion: Are Streaming Sites Bad For Musicians?—The Music Industry, Technology & Beyond

By Brandon Benguaich, Illustration by Ayla Shiblaq

Many consumers are familiar with various music streaming sites available online such as Pandora, Spotify, and many others, and there is no doubt that these sites have some sort of effect on artists, but do music listeners know to what degree these websites impact musicians? Is there no longer a concept of owning music? These are important questions that are constantly shaping the concept of music as a commodity, and what kind of impact that has on the music industry, musicians, and consumers.

Before I open a discussion about the impact of streaming sites, it is crucial to define what exactly a commodity is. For the purpose of this article and purely from a Western standpoint, a commodity is something that people can buy to satisfy some sort of need. People like to listen to music, musicians create music, and consumers purchase this music — simple, right? Clearly, this issue is not so black and white. Up until the 18th century, music was written for the church, and towards the end of the 18th century, many composers, such as Mozart, who were writing more secular music, began commoditizing their music through sheet music. This allowed music to be bought, sold, and distributed as a commodity, made possible through the invention and rise of the printing press.

Fast forward to the 20th century: music was being sold via physical copies. As the economy improved, the United States and Canada were able to better communicate and exchange goods, and more and more consumers were listening to and purchasing music. It wasn’t until later on that musicians started receiving rights with the invention of copyright and performance rights organizations such as BMI (Broadcast Music Incorporated) and SOCAN (Society of Canadian Authors & Producers).

Lars Ulrich, Metallica's drummer, testifying in Washington during the Metallica v. Napster trial in 2006. Photo by Molly Riley REUTERS.

Lars Ulrich, Metallica’s drummer, testifying in Washington during the Metallica v. Napster trial in 2006. Photo by Molly Riley REUTERS

At the start of the 21st century, MP3 files and peer-to-peer (P2P) sharing rose to popularity. People could simply share their MP3 files online. This raised many more questions about whether music can be controlled as a commodity, and whether music can truly be owned. The event that first gave attention to this matter was the Metallica vs. Napster lawsuit, as this was the first notable case of an artist suing a P2P company.

The internet drastically transformed the music industry. Today music does not simply have to be distributed by major record labels, and with the rise of these new technologies, new issues arise. Lately, there has been a decline in CD sales and a rise in digital streaming sites that operate based on subscriptions. Labels license entire libraries to these websites and artists are making less money off each play than ever before (in fact, these artists are making about fractions of a cent off each play). In the past year digital track sales have been dropping and subscription purchases have been rising, similar to the previous shift of CD sales to digital sales on purchasing platforms such as iTunes. This shift towards streaming sites has made music extremely accessible for consumers, as people can simply skip through track after track for a minimal fee; however, it is clear that it is not benefiting artists all that much. Sure, there is exposure, but it comes at the cost of hard work and integrity.

Yorke tweets his opinion of Spotify

Yorke tweets his opinion of Spotify

In 2013, Thom Yorke had a lot to say on this matter. In an interview with Mexican website Sopitas, he stated that Spotify is “the last desperate fart of a dying corpse.” Yorke hit the nail on the head – it is time for a new shift in technology and rights for artists. Artists should have their music in their own hands. But what can we as consumers do to help? The main things any consumer can do is support your favorite artist by going to their shows, buy their music from them as much as possible, and boycott these streaming services. There is no doubt that music is shifting each year, but together we can shift it for the benefit of the ones creating what we love so dearly.

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