Did internet kill the radio star?
- 21 January 2014
David Lowery, lead singer for the bands Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven, tells the BBC that illegal sharing of music files is sticking it to the "hippy freak musician", while internet service providers and other big corporations still get their profits.
He calls people who download songs for free "unethical and amoral".
But the problem is bigger than just pirated music, he says. Online streaming services like Spotify and Pandora pay artists a royalty rate that many artists consider to be a pittance.
"As purveyors of legally licensed music, [streaming services] have been largely welcomed by an industry still buffeted by piracy," writes the New York Times's Ben Sisario. "But as the companies behind these digital services swell into multibillion-dollar enterprises, the relative trickle of money that has made its way to artists is causing anxiety at every level of the business."
Sisario cites Zoe Keating, a classical cellist, whose 1.5 million plays over six months on Pandora netted her $1,652.74.
"The royalties issue hits home for musicians who, over the past decade and a half, have seen music sales plummet from $14.6 billion in 1999 to $7.1 billion in 2012, according to the Recording Industry Association of America," writes the Chicago Tribune's Mark Caro.
"I have met many fans over the years who are proud to find and listen to music on Spotify," writes musician Sam Duckworth in the Guardian. "They are under the impression that their subscription fees are helping to support us and that the ever-growing catalogue they enjoy is due to their subscriptions. But music fans have been sold a lie… Unless those higher up in the industry are prepared to acknowledge the disparity between the commercial success of Spotify and the royalty rates paid to artists, the outlook for smaller musicians will remain bleak."
Damon Krukowski of the band Galaxie 500 writes that part of the problem is that music streaming companies aren't really music companies at all:
The sale of recorded music has become irrelevant to the dominant business models I have to contend with as a working musician. Indeed, music itself seems to be irrelevant to these businesses - it is just another form of information, the same as any other that might entice us to click a link or a buy button on a stock exchange.
Like it or not, writes Bloomberg View columnist Megan McArdle, Spotfy's royalty payment rates are a reflection of the market for recorded music:
In theory, Spotify could charge more money, enough to cover their costs. In practice, Spotify is constrained by even cheaper alternatives. In 1995, I can totally imagine someone having created a streaming service that charged $50 a month for unlimited listening … if the technology had been available. Music fans would have hustled to get in on such an unbelievably good deal. But in 2010, such a service is competing with "free". Which means that they cannot charge more than a negligible amount.
The writers at Trichordist, a blog co-founded by Mr Lowery, contend that the big corporations like Google, whose YouTube service has vast amounts of music content available to users for free, is to blame. They call it "ad-funded piracy".
"The reason Spotify pays so little is because it's forced to compete with illegally operating, unlicensed sites who pay nothing at all," they write. "The truth is that Spotify is only a symptom of a much larger disease."
Music streaming is where the industry is headed, however, and musicians will have to find a way to adapt. On Tuesday, rapper Dr Dre, who has made hundreds of millions dollars in the headphone business, launched Beats Music, a direct competitor to Spotify.
The market is only getting more crowded, which likely will do little to put more money in the hands of the people who create the music on which the entire industry is founded.