Is Music Streaming Good for Artists?

Music streaming benefits artists because it provides them with an audience-building platform to promote and earn from their work. On the other hand, it hurts musicians due to its questionable division of payments, negative creative pressures, and biased algorithms.

There’s no denying that streaming changed the music business. In the United States alone, streaming makes up 84% of the total music industry revenue. As a music-listening solution, it has long overcome the popularity of vinyl and CD. But is streaming all bad? Or is it just different?

No black-and-white answer fits the question, but it’s evident that, from an artist’s point of view, there are pros and cons to streaming. To understand this debate at a deeper level, we must first analyze the advantages and disadvantages of music streaming.

The Pros and Cons of Music Streaming

Every new step into the future brings something good and bad to the table. Streaming is no exception. Music listeners get to listen to thousands of high-quality songs on apps such as Spotify and Tidal for a very reasonable monthly subscription. But are their habits hurting music creators? Sometimes. But not always. 

These are the main advantages and disadvantages of music streaming for artists:

Pro: Access to amazing music-promotion platforms

Every music solution on the Internet empowers artists. But out of all of them, streaming platforms are undoubtedly the most prominent. With so many paid subscribers tuned in to services like Spotify and Apple Music, streaming artists get access to a huge number of potential new listeners.

Today, uploading one’s songs to streaming platforms with the help of a digital music distribution company is almost a given, both for established and up-and-coming acts. These songs don’t always reach millions, but some do. Without Spotify and other similar services, artists wouldn’t have access to this new channel of promotion.

Pro: A new source of revenue

The way music-streaming payments are divided between companies, labels, and artists is flawed, to say the least. But music streaming is still a new source of revenue for artists, who often struggle to find ways of getting paid for their hard work.

According to Louder Sound, Spotify alone gives more than $7 billion to artists in a single year. In the United States, more than 1.000 artists managed to generate a yearly revenue superior to $1 million through Spotify.

No, the way streaming services distribute the money they make is not ideal. However, that doesn’t mean that artists would be better off without them. For better or worse, every new source of income for musicians is more than welcome.

Con: Artists don’t get as much as they deserve

People outside of the music business often get shocked after learning about how much artists get whenever someone streams one of their songs. Pay-per-stream (PPS) values change from streaming service to streaming service, but there are only two major companies that pay musicians more than one cent per stream: Napster and Tidal.

As for Spotify, it pays musicians a mere $0.0043 per stream, meaning a song needs to be streamed 229 times before the artist makes $1. This overwhelming fact only leaves room for one conclusion: streaming services don’t pay artists nearly as much as they deserve.

Streaming platforms bring value to the music business, but they’re mainly important because of their libraries. If it wasn’t for the music, which is made by creators, nobody would ever think of buying a Spotify subscription. Music is what makes streaming services good; so why are the people making the music not getting a larger chunk of the revenue?

In a nutshell, it’s because all of the power is with the companies running music streaming. Because artists need to rely on these companies to get to broader audiences, they have no other option but to subject themselves to their guidelines, even when these are not fair.

Con: The way music streaming works can negatively influence the creative process

Every way of listening to music has an impact on an artist’s creative process. In the days of vinyl, for instance, musicians released shorter albums so they would fit on the record. When CDs came along, long 80-minute albums became the norm.

What’s different about the way music streaming influences the creative process is that it puts quantity over quality. Because of the way streaming services work, the artists with the most songs uploaded online have a better chance of reaching new listeners.

This gave way to a hustler-type culture amongst musicians that’s about creating as many songs as quickly as possible regardless of their quality

As a result, the current music scene is saturated with repetitive, low-quality, and uninteresting filler tracks. While artists are not forced to submit to this hustler-type culture, such a thing wouldn’t even exist if it wasn’t for streaming services.

That’s not even all. Streaming caveats have also influenced countless creators into doing stuff like reducing the time of their songs, creating unnecessary “attention-grabbing” intros, and ignoring the album format in favor of a track-per-track mindset.

Con: Streaming service algorithms are biased

Music streaming algorithms can be great for a few artists. If their song is featured on a popular playlist, some musicians can go from complete unknowns to Internet sensations overnight. But what about all the countless struggling artists who never show up in the recommendations?

Streaming service algorithms aren’t bad per se, but they can cast a shadow over millions of high-quality acts just… Because.

At its core, algorithms are a set of rigorous instructions that don’t have the sensibility to truly appreciate a work of art. In the past, quality control in music used to be in the hands of tasteful music curators. Now, it’s at the whim of an inscrutable, arbitrary mathematical sequence.

What should be done to fix music streaming?

Like the Internet itself, music streaming is both good and bad. Ignoring it would be silly, as streaming will for sure continue to be the new golden standard in the music industry. So, is there anything that can be done to fix the issues with music streaming?

For artists to get what they deserve from the most popular streaming platforms around, there needs to be a shift of power. The Neil Young controversy is but one example of an artist who decided to roll up his sleeves and fight for his rights. But for a true change to happen, artists need to unite and work collectively on their demands.

Finding alternative solutions to streaming services is also advised. Bandcamp, for instance, allows musicians to stream and sell their music via dedicated web pages for the price of a small commission. There are no streaming revenues, creative pressures, or faulty algorithms involved in the process.

Supporting better record deals such as the anti-360º deal or the 50/50 deal is also an important step towards change that all musicians should embrace. Some of the issues with music streaming are rooted in the older traditions of an industry that, as far back as anyone can recall, has always mistreated artists.

Verdict

Yes, music streaming is good for artists and has helped many to find their fanbase and go from aspiring to professional musicians. But it’s also bad.

While it’s clear that there are pros and cons to music streaming, the question is not about finding out whether one outweighs the other. It’s about tackling the problems of music streaming and trying to find a solution for them or, at the very least, making music streaming just a little bit better.

Brian Clark is a multi-instrumentalist and music producer. He is passionate about practically all areas of music and he particularly enjoys writing about the music industry.

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