Does Streaming Undervalue Music?

Streaming Music

Online piracy has been around for quite some time, and nearly everyone has a position on whether it is moral, legal, fun, horrible, and how to deal with it.  Piracy is an important issue, and for good reason.

There is no direct compensation to artists who have worked so hard to create the content. Some may argue that the exposure, and freedom to preview an album leads to long term gains with paying customers, and that may very well be true, but hasn’t been proven conclusively.

What most people do agree on is that streaming services such as (Now Defunct) Rdio and Spotify which are paid, legal and licensed ways to access music libraries are fair. Recently this system has been challenged most notably by artist Taylor Swift claiming that the profit margins made from streaming companies don’t fairly compensate the value of the work. Specially she made reference to the ad support tier of Spotify stating it made her music look cheap.

While I believe that an artist should be justly compensated, there are many service industries that depend on ad revenue to provide free services. Notably Google, Facebook, and even Spotify, the service being criticized. Sponsorship is both a common and beneficial business model for the information industry allowing publishers to be compensated for their content while also giving sponsors access to a user base that they may otherwise not have had.

Another compelling reason to support the streaming media model and the very reason I use it is to discover new artists.  By using a service that acts like an online radio stationan an artist is exposed to many new users. Unlike in the case of piracy, each of these new users is also a paying subscriber providing additional revenue per play. Additionally these new subscribers would be more likely to download additional tracks or buy cds.

An additional point that I believe is not well addressed regarding Swift and her issues with streaming is a continuing royalty payment.  In traditional album sales a user purchases an album one time, and listens to that music any number of times across a variety of devices.  With streaming services a user downloads that song several times, and the company calculates a small royalty each time.  So really in the end the artist, or at least the copyright holder is still making more money. (I wonder how hard it would be to find some statistics supporting this?)

The argument made however is that it devalues the hard work that artists put into music. While I certainly don’t know what goes into making music, The big issue here is she is claiming that the small subscription fees, or ad supported streaming music services are alluding to music being cheaper than say buying it for $0.99 on iTunes. Also consider music sites such as Bandcamp where artists allow people to pay what they believe the music is worth. Giving people the chance to choose and not forcing a value upon them really allows your talent, and not your lawyers to dictate what your work is worth.

Of course I believe that artists should be compensated fairly, it is after all a profession that many of us benefit from, and the stresses and difficulties of such a job are terribly under appreciated. I firmly believe that copyright is an important part of our growing creative, and entertainment industry. Paying for art forms is very much the same as paying for tangible goods. But i also believe in the market setting the price. Artificially inflating prices by exercising unfair control over your works limits access and ultimately looks petty. Allow streaming to exist, and prosper and let it do for the music industry what it was able to do for the television industry.  Much like radio before it, streaming music only makes sense; and much like radio before it, having ad supported free access is only logical.

One thing that Swift fails to mention is how royalties are distributed to various artists on a platform. While it’s true that mainstream artists often make more money and have more exposure, streaming platforms allow indie bands to be put on equal ground with artists who have larger budgets, or backing from successful stars and labels.

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