The music industry is something that is constantly changing, and is influenced by every development and advance made in technology. A major development over the past few years has been rise in use of free streaming services, such as Spotify and Apple music, to give people music on a subscription basis with the intention that people pay for a higher quality service, when in reality most never pay and use the “free trial” on a permanent basis. Another colossal development, allowed by developments in technology, has been websites for illegally downloading music which are used by millions every day. This has made it almost impossible for musicians to earn money from actually making music, and makes me wonder what is going to happen to the music industry next.
The problems behind Spotify were brought to the fore recently upon the release of Adele’s album, “25”. Like many, I turned to Spotify to listen to it on the release day, only to find it unavailable! When I did further research, I discovered that this was because Adele had decided not to allow it on Spotify, as she feels it “devalues the music.” I completely agree. Adele first tried to only make it available to premium users, who had paid for their subscription, but when she was told that Spotify doesn’t work that way she then proceeded to make it completely unavailable – and I admire her for it. What seems at first glance as an unnecessary bid to drive album sales, is in reality her taking a stance on her right as a performer and an individual earn a living for her work.
This move on Adele’s part seems reminiscent of that of Taylor Swift two years ago when she infamously pulled all of her songs from the streaming service for the reason that there should be an “inherent value placed on art” and that musicians and artists should “value their art and make sure that people are paying enough money for it.” While I’m not a huge fan of Taylor Swift’s music, I can definitely respect her taking this stance against these streaming giants. She also revealed that on other services such as Beats Music and Rhapsody, there is a facility available to make Premium users only have access to her music, therefore putting more value and appreciation in it. Spotify being the most popular, however, puts less merit in this availability.
Another prominent musician who has also shared these views is, of course, Beyoncé. Perhaps the most impressive of all was when Beyoncé dropped her self-titled album, without any promotion at all, on iTunes only yet managed to keep it from being streamed anywhere, including spotify and youtube for over a year. The album nonetheless rose to number 1 within a day, and everyone who wanted to listen to it had no choice but to buy it, therefore appreciating and valuing her time and effort as an artist more. While many could see this as greed, and selfishness to Spotify users, it is in fact someone in the public eye with a following that allows her to take a stance where smaller artists can’t, doing just that.
What do these three have in common? They all have an extremely large following, which allows them to do this essentially without hurting album sales. Adele’s album has been so highly anticipated globally that people will buy it nonetheless, as they want to hear the songs on it; doing this will only increase her songs as mildly curious half followers will also be forced to buy the album. At the end of the day, while neither Adele, Taylor Swift or Beyoncé actually need to increase their sales for their own benefit, in principle this is an extremely beneficial point to be made on behalf of the smaller artist who can’t afford to refuse spotify their music for fear that it will hurt their exposure. Marina and the Diamonds, for instance, isn’t extremely well known and if she didn’t have her music on Spotify it wouldn’t necessarily drive people to buy her album; it would instead hurt her exposure as an artist. This highlights how vitally important it is for artists with enough of a fan base to fight for these rights.
At the end of the day the internet has created a culture in which we almost expect access to music for free. Upon further thought, this seems ridiculous – a musician is another profession, in which someone is putting in their time and effort in order to make a living. No one would ever expect to be seen by a doctor and look for a way to avoid paying, because we respect the time the doctor has put into our lives. No one looks for an “illegal” alternatives to avoid paying for these services. No one would hire a painter or a plumber to perform a service for our houses, and then refuse to pay, because we see the benefit in the service they have provided us with. So why do we treat musicians, who are providing another service, differently? Why do we look for technologically based alternatives, such as free trials, which benefit everyone but the artist? For every time a song is played on Spotify, less than 1c goes to the record label – let alone the artist! While it is convenient on the users end, this just shows the lack of respect that exists for musicians as a result of this technological mentality.
I’m not claiming to be a saint in this area – in the past I’ve definitely done my share of downloading, and for about a year I’ve been using Spotify free, but I feel like through the movements of Adele and others my eyes have been really opened to the effects and impact of this in the long run on their lives and careers. I recently invested in Spotify Premium, and I definitely think that that has added more value to the service and the music in my mind . I also like to buy a lot of my music through Vinyl Record form as I feel like it’s such a complimentative form to the music itself, and the experience of listening to music. There are so many ways to buy music that are more beneficial and fair to the artist, and although some may be expensive there are many that won’t break the bank! Waiting until the album comes down in price after the initial release, paying for a download on iTunes or even investing in Spotify Premium for €10 per month (€5 for students) – if we all began to do this instead of downloading for free and using free trials, the industry would have just a chance of being a better place for musicians.
This is such a complicated issue, which is unfortunately going in the direction where a musician will not be able to earn any money from the creation of music, and will be forced to tour as their only source of income. As the recently deceased David Bowie [R.I.P </3 ] predicted over ten years ago; “the absolute transformation of everything we ever thought about music will take place within ten years – nothing is going to be able to stop it” and that “music itself is going to become like running water or electricity.” I find it incredible that he predicted this, and it is essentially what has happened to the modern music industry. While this isn’t going to change enormously, it is vital to respect the musician’s time more than we currently do. And to start doing this, we need to change the value we place in music and begin to pay that price for what it is worth to us.