In November 2014, Taylor Swift famously pulled her discography from Spotify, citing underwhelming artist compensation. Several other artists have also taken similar measures to protest the seemingly unfair deal.
While the compensation problem is the most concerning, it’s not the only problem facing music streaming services. There are also issues regarding poor sound quality and user privacy, among others.
Despite these problems, streaming services have spearheaded significant positive changes, too. Even better, these changes have benefited not only artists but also industry professionals and listeners. Let’s discuss them in detail.
1. Music Streaming Services Have Helped Reduce Piracy
Perhaps the most significant positive impact music streaming platforms have had on the industry is helping to reduce piracy. From 1999 to the late 2000s, online piracy plagued the industry due to the rise of digital music.
Napster, the free online file-sharing platform, and its ilk became very popular, especially among young people. These websites allowed users to share and download songs for free illegally; hence, piracy became pervasive.
Many people who would have otherwise bought an album’s CD downloaded it for free, drastically dropping revenue.
According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the American music industry generated $14.6 billion in sales in 1999. But in 2009, after just a decade, that revenue plunged significantly to $6.3 billion.
However, Spotify disrupted the status quo upon launching in 2008. The Swedish-based company embarked on a customer reorientation campaign to persuade people to pay for music again – only this time, for much less.
Over time, other streaming services like Apple Music, YouTube Music, Amazon Music, and Tidal launched and have followed Spotify’s model.
With even more affordable streaming services available, music fans have several platforms to listen to songs legally. This availability and low cost have led to a significant decline in piracy, research shows.
In 2019, the American University International Law Review studied online music piracy and concluded that piracy is declining. The study showed that the core element behind this decline is the availability of affordable legal streaming.
This decline in piracy has changed the industry’s financial trajectory for good, as music revenue hit $15.9 billion in 2022. Per a RIAA report, streaming accounted for 84 percent ($13.3 billion) of that revenue.
2. Cheaper Cost of Streaming and More Accessibility
Back in the CD era, being musically adventurous seemed luxurious, as albums cost up to $20 per copy. Apple launched iTunes in 2001, but it wasn’t any better as songs sold for $1 each. Consequently, you could spend up to $100/month on albums and songs you may not like.
Compare these options to the current trend where music streaming services offer millions of songs yet charge much less.
The most popular music streaming service, Spotify, charges just $10.99/month for premium users. In return, they offer listeners access to over 80 million songs and a plethora of playlists. To make songs even more accessible, students can get Spotify Premium at a lower price ($5.99/month).
Today, songs and albums have become so accessible that you can listen to them immediately after their release. And if you have a thing for classics, you can also access the full discographies of artists dating back to the 1800s.
3. Reintroduction of Behind-the-Scenes Credits
The behind-the-scenes credits, known professionally as song credits, acknowledge everyone who contributed to making a song or an album. This includes songwriters, producers, sound engineers, and more.
In the CD era, it was a common feature as albums carried liner or sleeve notes naming all these professionals. But this practice died off for the most part as music consumption went digital.
File-sharing platforms like Napster and Limewire did not provide liner notes as they didn’t have enough information or just didn’t care. Thus, the unsung heroes lost recognition for their works.
However, streaming platforms have since returned the song credits feature to give credit where due. Spotify implemented the feature in 2018, giving recognition to certain contributors. But Tidal has taken it to the next level with its extensive song credits, including keyboardists, programmers, masterers, and assistants.
4. Artists Have a Wider Reach
In the pre-music streaming era, many artists had their reach severely limited to particular geographic regions. There were no global platforms to consume music, so only a few artists were able to break beyond boundaries.
Today, however, music streaming services have turned the tide with low subscription fees and global availability. Spotify, the leading player in the industry, has over 550 million monthly active users (MAU) and is available in 183 countries. Other streaming platforms also have hundreds of millions of users combined from all over the world.
This availability means music fans can access artists and their works from just about anywhere in the world. And the streaming numbers reflect this unlimited reach, as many artists have songs with billions of streams to their credit.
5. Listeners Can Easily Discover New Artists, Music, and Genres
Music lovers listen to a wider range of artists and genres today than in the 2000s or prior. The primary reason is that streaming platforms offer accessibility to more artists, songs, and genres.
Pretty much all artists have their discographies on all major streaming platforms. Hence, music fans can easily discover new talents and explore different sounds.
To further help listeners find new sounds, streaming services have certain features like playlists, charts, and genre sections. For example, you can discover new songs using Apple Music playlists and stations.
Adventurous music lovers can experiment with these media to enhance their playlists with new tunes. This also can help music fans develop a diverse taste for music.
6. Streaming Services Make it Easier for Artists to Start Their Careers
Simply put, streaming services have made it easier for new artists to launch their careers by providing them with a large global audience.
As an aspiring artist today, you can kick off your career and become successful simply by uploading your songs on SoundCloud, YouTube, or other platforms.
For example, in 2015, then-unknown rapper Post Malone uploaded a song, “White Iverson,” to his SoundCloud account. The song received over one million streams in the first month, later peaking at number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Post Malone soon became a viral sensation as several record labels vied for his signature. Today, he’s one of the world’s most streamed artists.
Other artists such as Billie Eilish, Lizzo, Kehlani, and Lil Nas X have similar success stories as SoundCloud also helped launch their careers.
Contrastingly, artists in the CD era didn’t have this type of opportunity. They had much less reach, and most people depended on record labels to put out music and start a career. Leaving them generally at the mercy of a record label and their personal marketing skills.
Streaming Services Have Made Their Mark but Can Do Better
Thanks to their availability and low cost, music lovers are streaming more than ever and can explore new sounds. Streaming services have also been hugely beneficial to artists. It helps expand their audience and makes it easier for newbies to get started, among other things.
Yet, the streaming industry can do better, especially in compensation, as artists continue to lament receiving inequitable dividends for their craft.