By guest blogger Taylor Lambert and Kevin Erickson
In the age of on-demand streaming, it’s common to hear people talk about music as “limitless”— something that flows forth endlessly like water. Indeed, musicians around the world release a huge volume of new music every day. But in practice, most consumers’ exposure to the world of new music is extremely limited. It’s one of the thorniest problems—if there’s so much music out there, why do consumers end up being exposed to so little of it? Why should the music marketplace be a winner-take-all system?
Of course, whether or not you view this as a problem to be solved could depend on whether you’re fortunate enough to be one of the “winners.” Still, media critics have long pointed to the role of gatekeepers who exercise considerable control what music reaches audiences. From radio programmers to retail managers to talent buyers to music reviewers and beyond, the most powerful labels do their best to keep their offerings front and center—often at the expense of independents. Radio is the still the number one source of “music discovery,” but commercial AM/FM radio broadcasters in this era of ownership consolidation tend to be highly risk-averse in their programming choices. Playlists are narrow and repetitive, as our research has documented. It has been the strong hope of the independent sector that online music services would be more democratic, allowing more artists to find audiences than was possible in the old-school media world.
Musicians are a very adaptable bunch, particularly independents. We’re the ones who turned the original MySpace into a powerhouse of music discovery; we’ve made Twitter an important platform for conversations about music; we continue to drive eyeballs to YouTube. Unfortunately musicians have also experienced the hassles of having a once-dependable platform disappear or transform into something that isn’t so useful, like when MySpace went Murdoch or the recent changes to Facebook.
Musicians’ needs in the digital realm might not be simple, per se, but they should be recognized. Although artists are generally enthusiastic about digital tools to reach fans, raise capital and sell stuff, we’re less thrilled when an online service goes away or is modified to the extent that its less useful. When news broke recently that streaming on-demand site Beats Music had acquired Topspin—a well-liked, direct-to-fan commerce solution for musicians—many wondered what this would mean for artists who had come to depend on its suite of services.
I’d love to tell you that I’ve explored every single feature on the newly-launched Beats Music streaming service, but I’ve pretty much been stuck on the Mojo Magazine-curated “New Psych Revolution” and “BritFolk Treasures” playlists. read more
Yesterday, on-demand music streaming service Spotifydid something pretty big by explaining in detail how it calculates and pays out royalties to rightsholders. With so many music industry pundits and practitioners in a tizzy about the economics of streaming, this move can be generally seen as positive. But as always, the devil is in the details.
It is certainly significant that Spotify took this step—probably long overdue—and we hope that it serves to increase the standard of transparency across the digital music sector. When a market leader like Spotify makes this kind of move, it can be a spur to other players to follow suit. However, it doesn’t really change much in terms of artist leverage on streaming on-demand services, nor does it impact most musicians and songwriters’ bottom lines. We spend a great deal of time considering this stuff—in fact, our own Kristin Thomson recently wrote a post for Music Think Tank about ways to make streaming music more viable for artists. (And if you need a primer on how the money flows on a variety of music platforms, check out these handy charts.)
20.7 million Americans (8.8% of all US adults) attended a classical music performance in 2012, according to the National Endowment for the Arts’ recent survey highlights. 19 million (8.1%) attended a jazz gig. But if these millions of classical & jazz fans tried to use any of the most popular digital music services to access classical or jazz music at home, they’d likely end up confused and unable to find what they’re looking for. read more
[…] In order to move the discourse forward, I followed up on an email that Kristin Thomson sent me after reading my article, and I asked her to bring her perspective to this conversation. Kristin is a social researcher, musician, indie record label owner, and a consultant for Future of Music Coalition, a national nonprofit that advocates for musicians. Since 2011, Kristin has also been co-director of Future of Music Coalition’s Artist Revenue Streams project, a multi-method, cross-genre examination of how musicians’ income streams are changing over time.read more
“The making of a good compilation tape is a very subtle art—many dos and dont’s.” – High Fidelity
This is the essentially the argument made by dance record label Ministry of Sound in their lawsuit against Spotify in the United Kingdom. Most of the label’s profits come from selling compilations featuring artists they haven’t signed—albums with names like Running Trax 2013, Clubbers Guide and Chilled House Classics.
“We painstakingly create, compile and market our [compilation] albums all over the world,” wrote Ministry of Sound chief executive Lohan Presencer in his Guardian Op-Ed.“Millions trust our brands, our taste and our selection.” (Note: Lohan Presencer is only a slightly-less awesome name than Benedict Cumberbatch.)
According to Presencer, the effort that goes into this curation process is intellectual property that needs to be protected.
This weekend, Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke and producer Nigel Godrich, collaborators in the band Atoms For Peace, made waves by pulling their material from streaming music service Spotify. Thom and Nigel explained that, in their view, Spotify’s business model doesn’t make sense for new artists. Godrich called the act a “small meaningless rebellion,” tweeting that, “small labels and new artists can’t even keep their lights on.