By Eashan Reddy Kotha
Sure, a few of us may be able to recall the last time we played a song on CD. Even fewer could say with utmost confidence that the last time they listened to a vinyl LP was just last weekend. But when was the last time you listened to an audio cassette? Does anyone even remember the Sony Walkman?
In today’s day and age is an abundance of novel technologies at our disposal and it’s simply inconvenient to carry LPs, cassettes and even CDs around. You can’t exactly take a vinyl from your favorite band and listen to it on your morning run.
Over the past decade, the music industry has transformed significantly. We now have Pandora, Soundcloud, Tidal, Google Music and most recently Amazon Music, among others. Even Apple hopped onto the bandwagon of music streaming, revamping its native music app with a completely catchy name: Apple Music.
Before we go further, I have to admit: when it comes to price, quality and a diverse selection, Spotify rules. Not that the alternatives are bad per se, but rather, they provide unique features that might entice you.
Soundcloud is usually the primary source for underground music scenes, as well as countless remixes. Tidal may be a newcomer, but it does have the advantage of exclusive releases, notably Beyoncé’s “Lemonade,” Daft Punk’s film “Electroma,” Rihanna’s “Anti,” and Kanye West’s “The Life of Pablo,” among others. Amazon Music is only really useful if you have Prime, but even then, the catalog is a measly one million songs compared to the 20 million plus offered by Spotify. Google Music was recently expanded to iOS, but it doesn’t even offer a student discount.
Any of these streaming services would work depending on what suits you. However, Spotify offers a large selection of popular songs as well as more obscure tracks. Its monthly fee is reasonable and it’s discounted further for students.
Streaming services not only let us access vast libraries of music, but they also have changed how we discover new music. Nowadays, we don’t even think about how convenient it has become to listen to our songs on the go. We are only limited by data plans and WiFi spots. Even then, some services like Spotify have an offline mode which enables you to stream your library without an internet connection.
Streaming services benefit the music industry and millions of users around the world. Services adapt to your musical palate, and you can now skip hearing the same five songs on the radio every day. Spotify even generates playlists based on music a user listens to, broadening their musical horizons. Users can share and recommend tracks to others as well. Streaming has simply made it easier to expose the masses to exciting, unnoticed artists.
In fact, streaming has become more prominent than downloading music rather quickly. According to Nielsen, 164.5 billion songs were streamed in 2014. By the end of 2015, the figure jumped to 317 billion streams. As a result of this robust growth, the industry doesn’t gauge an artist’s success solely on album sales anymore. Streams are counted as album equivalents by Billboard (1,500 streams equals one album).
Streaming services and corporations are taking advantage of this growing sector for marketing purposes. Marketers utilize instantly available data of users’ playlists and listening habits to target ads that align well with prospective consumers. The advantage is clear for these brands — they can efficiently reach target demographics more likely to buy their product. This is the reason why teens may occasionally hear ads for the latest horror movie or even various colleges. This sharply outpaces radio, where it’s relatively more difficult to know who exactly is listening.
Alas, while streaming services have expanded artists’ reach to a larger audience, there are some who are taking a stand against them. Taylor Swift, for example, refused to sell Spotify her albums. In the past, Swift also refused to make her albums available to Apple Music listeners. What’s the issue Swift and other songwriters have with streaming services? Money. Streaming services don’t fairly reimburse artists. Payment varies from $.006 to $.0084 per play, according to Spotify. Even with hundreds of thousands or even millions of plays, it would be extremely difficult to generate a steady flow of income from streaming music; it’s more like a trickle. However, it could be argued that easy access to an artist’s music is the trade-off. A larger audience provides potential for higher album and concert sales.
To anyone just starting to to explore these streaming services, it may seem overwhelming. And it is. However, the influx of choices isn’t detrimental. They provide niche qualities that are more desirable to some than others. However, if you want to jump into the musical stream, start at Spotify and go from there.