Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Dangerous Side of Music Streaming

Written by Aaron McKrell — Monday night wasn’t all smiles at the Grammy Awards.

Recording Academy President Neil Portnow and Common spoke on the low amount of royalties paid to artists by streaming services.

"When you stream a song, all the people that created that music receive a fraction of a penny," Portnow said. "Isn’t a song worth more than a penny?"

While Portnow and Common contended that streaming services are financially harmful to artists, that same day another artist demonstrated how streaming services can pose limitations to consumers.

On Monday, Kanye West tweeted: "My album will never never never be on Apple. And it will never be for sale… You can only get it on Tidal."

News that Kanye West’s latest album, The Life of Pablo, is not quite as outrageous as RZA selling Once Upon a Time in Shaolin solely to Martin Shkreli for $1 million, but it’s close.

It foreshadows a dark future, one that holds the possibility of albums exclusively being featured on specific streaming services and not available for purchase.

You’re probably thinking, ‘Who buys music anymore? Everybody streams. It’s no big deal.’ However, if Kanye West sticks to his word, a consumer will only be able to listen to The Life of Pablo legally so long as they subscribe to Tidal.

That’s a pretty heavy commitment for one album. Rihanna's Anti was also released to Tidal before becoming available on other digital outlets.

So then you may think, “Big deal. Just sign up and have Tidal be your streaming service.” What to do, then, if another artist decides to pull the same stunt with a different streaming service, and not put out the album for purchase? And another? And another?

What if each major label decides to create its own streaming service, with that service and that service alone featuring the label’s artists? Are consumers supposed to sign up for multiple streaming services, just so they don’t miss out on any of their favorites? That could get pretty costly.

Granted, we’re dealing with hypotheticals here, but the seeds have already been planted for this kind of practice.

Television and movie fans will point to HBO GO and Netflix as having the same kind of practices. They will say that it is just as limiting that The Wire and The Sopranos only are available for streaming on the former and Orange is the New Black on the latter.

They’re forgetting one thing: consumers can still purchase The Wire, The Sopranos and Orange is the New Black on DVD or digitally.

That’s why it is more important than ever to be able to own music. Once it’s purchased, it’s yours forever. That’s in stark contrast to streaming, where you’re at the mercy of whatever the streaming service chooses to continue to provide (or not provide).

Say you’re really in the mood to listen to a certain album or song for your morning run, because it really gets you going. You sign in to whatever service you have. You go to check, but it’s not there. It was just there two days ago, but it’s not now, because for whatever reason - the artist pulled it from that service, the service didn’t see it necessary to provide the album/song anymore, etc. - it’s not there.

This wouldn’t be an issue if you owned the music. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not entirely against streaming services. However, I agree with Common and Portnow that they can be harmful, not just for the financial strain they put on artists, but for the potential they have to limit consumers.

For the sake of both artists and consumers, ownership needs to maintain a place in the music industry.

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