The Real Risk of Music Streaming Services to Contemporary Musicians: Being Ignored

I recorded a segment for WQXR’s Conducting Business yesterday, discussing how classical music fares with music streaming services such as Apple Music. One of the topics that came up in the conversation was the fact that there’s simply too much music. We don’t need yet another recording of Beethoven’s symphonies, or Chopin’s ├ętudes, and new artists face a great deal of difficulty if they have nothing new to offer.

Bob Lefsetz pointed out something similar in his article Neil Young on Streaming. He says:

That’s your challenge, getting people to pay attention, not pay for music.

Getting people to pay attention to new artists isn’t easy, and it’s even more difficult with streaming services, where listeners have the (more or less) entire history of recorded music available at their fingertips. If you like a certain genre of music, you may be attracted to listening to the musicians who helped define that genre. If you like blues-rock, you might want to hear Eric Clapton, instead of some newcomer. If you like folk music, you might tune into Woody Guthrie, instead of the latest singer-songwriter.

Granted, this won’t affect a large number of listeners, but with Apple Music, part of the service is recommendations in the For You section. Many of these go back to the past, offering playlists about influencers, or thematic playlists which often feature artists that are not contemporary. (The Jackson Browne playlist below is because I listened to one of his albums the other day.)

For you past

This will have a large effect on streaming revenue for both established artists and new artists. The older artists whose music gets included in all of these “curated” playlists will get bumps in their plays. Newer artists will find that it’s harder to get their music streamed, since there are only so many hours in a day.

This effect may be even more pronounced with genres like jazz and classical music. Many people feel that jazz is boring, at least today’s jazz is, since it isn’t very different from jazz back in the pre-electric days. Why listen to some new jazz artist when you can stream anything by Miles Davis, Theolonius Monk, or John Coltrane? And what about classical music? If you want to hear, say, some Beethoven piano sonatas, you can choose from dozens of great artists’ recordings; why pick the new one?

Naturally, I’m simplifying. There are some people who do care enough about new music to choose the recent artists, but, since most people use music as wallpaper, they’ll gravitate to the curated playlists to fill their sonic space.

This could have a major effect on the viability of new artists. Unless their music is truly different, unless they can get attention, it’s going to be a lot harder to compete with the huge library of recorded music that is now available to listeners for ten bucks a month.

12 thoughts on “The Real Risk of Music Streaming Services to Contemporary Musicians: Being Ignored

  1. I agree that it is a huge problem for any new recording or new artist to get any attention at all. I’m not sure whether streaming has much impact on that. For those that don’t use streaming, the most common music listening comes from previously purchased music and radio. Neither of these inherently help the new artist/new recording get much exposure. If the listener is dedicated to hearing new stuff, they will find some. If not, very little new material will cross their ear canals.

    Streaming makes it much easier to sample new music on a whim or when desired. But as Kirk indicates, it’s path of least resistance also means ignoring most new music/recordings. How does that shake out overall? My guess is that streaming will be a slight help to new music/recordings, but new artists will continue to face very long odds.

    • Right. This is pretty much ever the problem for new artists. Was there some thought that streaming was supposed to change the history of art?

      Joe

  2. I agree that it is a huge problem for any new recording or new artist to get any attention at all. I’m not sure whether streaming has much impact on that. For those that don’t use streaming, the most common music listening comes from previously purchased music and radio. Neither of these inherently help the new artist/new recording get much exposure. If the listener is dedicated to hearing new stuff, they will find some. If not, very little new material will cross their ear canals.

    Streaming makes it much easier to sample new music on a whim or when desired. But as Kirk indicates, it’s path of least resistance also means ignoring most new music/recordings. How does that shake out overall? My guess is that streaming will be a slight help to new music/recordings, but new artists will continue to face very long odds.

    • Right. This is pretty much ever the problem for new artists. Was there some thought that streaming was supposed to change the history of art?

      Joe

  3. Being ignored is the same problem for every new artist in any art.
    It is not a new problem. And Music Streaming will not change this.

    New musicians always have to compete against the older generation. Even musicians from the 70s are still touring and making money. And in music stores, the older CDs are much less expensive and are still bought. Why would a consumer want to spend their hard earned bucks on your new CD if you aren’t a star? So how is a newbie going to make a living in music?

    The problem for any new (or old) musician is always about marketing, not the medium through which the music is sold.

    Marketing is the same no matter what the medium – live shows, CD sales, Digital Sales, and Streaming. The formula is the same.

    1. Musicians still have to advertise themselves. This includes keeping up a web page or Facebook page.

    2. They have to get exposure through curators – those who can decide what song is played – such as radio stations, Beats 1, etc.

    3. They have to go on the road to perform in public so they can get word of mouth advertisement which leads to sales.

    Only when sufficient interest is generated through Marketing does income start trickling in.

    • The difference with record stores is that they – where they still exist – focus mostly on new recordings, and only have steady sellers from the back catalogue. With records, this is more so than with books, interestingly enough.

      With streaming, as I pointed out, there is a lot of focus on back catalogue for curated playlists. There are certainly sections with new recordings, but the curation focuses on older tunes for a simple reason: the playlists will have a longer shelf life.

  4. Being ignored is the same problem for every new artist in any art.
    It is not a new problem. And Music Streaming will not change this.

    New musicians always have to compete against the older generation. Even musicians from the 70s are still touring and making money. And in music stores, the older CDs are much less expensive and are still bought. Why would a consumer want to spend their hard earned bucks on your new CD if you aren’t a star? So how is a newbie going to make a living in music?

    The problem for any new (or old) musician is always about marketing, not the medium through which the music is sold.

    Marketing is the same no matter what the medium – live shows, CD sales, Digital Sales, and Streaming. The formula is the same.

    1. Musicians still have to advertise themselves. This includes keeping up a web page or Facebook page.

    2. They have to get exposure through curators – those who can decide what song is played – such as radio stations, Beats 1, etc.

    3. They have to go on the road to perform in public so they can get word of mouth advertisement which leads to sales.

    Only when sufficient interest is generated through Marketing does income start trickling in.

    • The difference with record stores is that they – where they still exist – focus mostly on new recordings, and only have steady sellers from the back catalogue. With records, this is more so than with books, interestingly enough.

      With streaming, as I pointed out, there is a lot of focus on back catalogue for curated playlists. There are certainly sections with new recordings, but the curation focuses on older tunes for a simple reason: the playlists will have a longer shelf life.

  5. When recording started, audio quality was terrible, and everyone knew it. Improvements in sound quality came every few months in recording or reproduction hardware, and fairly often in recording format. Eventually, we got to 78s, which provided a stable format for a couple of decades, but audio quality recorded on 78s kept improving. The same thing happened with vinyl LPs. The physical medium was fairly stable for thirty years, but the sound coming off a new record kept getting better, through better recording, mastering, and playback technology. So for the first hundred plus years of recorded music, there was alway a reason for the person who cared about sound quality to buy new recordings.

    Over that same period, the physical recording owned by the consumer was fragile, and likely to degrade. Records get scratched and/or dirty, audio tapes wear out, and I suppose something similar happened to wax cylinders. So even someone happy with the sound of a given recording on the day they purchased it had a reason to consider purchasing a replacement later.

    The big change in music history began with the CD, the first widely available digital music source. Since then, sound quality hasn’t improved much, and physical replacement is never needed by anyone with a good backup strategy. Many of us have all the music that we purchased since 1985, and it sounds just as good as when we bought it.

    A thousand songs in your pocket, or twenty thousand on your computer, offers a level of access never before possible. Digital music on a hard drive or similar random access device, means that we can keep track of and listen to any desired song/musical piece. This wasn’t likely with any physical medium, including CDs. There are lots of people who have over ten thousand songs that they actively manage, and access when they wish. This couldn’t happen without the technology that we now have.

    Compared to these changes, I think streaming is a fairly minor change. It’s just another element in giving more people access to more musical choices with greater ease. We have close to unlimited choice between music tracks at any given time. However, we haven’t been given any extra time to deal with this choice. Given a mere twenty-four hours in the day, and millions of music tracks to choose from, each song has very little chance of getting attention.

  6. When recording started, audio quality was terrible, and everyone knew it. Improvements in sound quality came every few months in recording or reproduction hardware, and fairly often in recording format. Eventually, we got to 78s, which provided a stable format for a couple of decades, but audio quality recorded on 78s kept improving. The same thing happened with vinyl LPs. The physical medium was fairly stable for thirty years, but the sound coming off a new record kept getting better, through better recording, mastering, and playback technology. So for the first hundred plus years of recorded music, there was alway a reason for the person who cared about sound quality to buy new recordings.

    Over that same period, the physical recording owned by the consumer was fragile, and likely to degrade. Records get scratched and/or dirty, audio tapes wear out, and I suppose something similar happened to wax cylinders. So even someone happy with the sound of a given recording on the day they purchased it had a reason to consider purchasing a replacement later.

    The big change in music history began with the CD, the first widely available digital music source. Since then, sound quality hasn’t improved much, and physical replacement is never needed by anyone with a good backup strategy. Many of us have all the music that we purchased since 1985, and it sounds just as good as when we bought it.

    A thousand songs in your pocket, or twenty thousand on your computer, offers a level of access never before possible. Digital music on a hard drive or similar random access device, means that we can keep track of and listen to any desired song/musical piece. This wasn’t likely with any physical medium, including CDs. There are lots of people who have over ten thousand songs that they actively manage, and access when they wish. This couldn’t happen without the technology that we now have.

    Compared to these changes, I think streaming is a fairly minor change. It’s just another element in giving more people access to more musical choices with greater ease. We have close to unlimited choice between music tracks at any given time. However, we haven’t been given any extra time to deal with this choice. Given a mere twenty-four hours in the day, and millions of music tracks to choose from, each song has very little chance of getting attention.

  7. Since I signed up for Spotify a few years ago I find myself listening to much more new artists. Instead of playing the same old Stones or Elton John album for the 75th time I’ll search for new artists I’ve had friends or Twitter users mention. Plus my Spotfify friends send me direct links.

    As a huge classical music listener too, I’ll explore more with streaming. I follow the RMCR Usenet newsgroup and while in the past I would sometimes order an unfamiliar CD that was being discussed, with Spotify it’s much easier to check it out.

    I still do buy a lot of physical CDs. A habit hard to break. Started buying LPs at age 12 and I’m 54 now.

    I’d probably do more downloading if the files were lossless, CD quality, well tagged and included PDF “liner notes”. Today tried a Universal Music’s download service. Got a 24bit/96kHz download of Holst/Strauss on DG with Steinberg/Boston Symphony. With my massive 350 MBs bandwidth should have blown by. Trickled down at 30k/sec. After an hour had aborted twice & had to start over. Finally got it. Zero graphics or liner notes. Not even an album cover. Tagging woefully inadequate. Not even track numbers so I had no idea what order the Also sprach Zarathustra sections should go in. (Will fix up via file names). Digressing here from streaming, sorry.

  8. Since I signed up for Spotify a few years ago I find myself listening to much more new artists. Instead of playing the same old Stones or Elton John album for the 75th time I’ll search for new artists I’ve had friends or Twitter users mention. Plus my Spotfify friends send me direct links.

    As a huge classical music listener too, I’ll explore more with streaming. I follow the RMCR Usenet newsgroup and while in the past I would sometimes order an unfamiliar CD that was being discussed, with Spotify it’s much easier to check it out.

    I still do buy a lot of physical CDs. A habit hard to break. Started buying LPs at age 12 and I’m 54 now.

    I’d probably do more downloading if the files were lossless, CD quality, well tagged and included PDF “liner notes”. Today tried a Universal Music’s download service. Got a 24bit/96kHz download of Holst/Strauss on DG with Steinberg/Boston Symphony. With my massive 350 MBs bandwidth should have blown by. Trickled down at 30k/sec. After an hour had aborted twice & had to start over. Finally got it. Zero graphics or liner notes. Not even an album cover. Tagging woefully inadequate. Not even track numbers so I had no idea what order the Also sprach Zarathustra sections should go in. (Will fix up via file names). Digressing here from streaming, sorry.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.