When Jay Z premiered Tidal, it came with the promise of his streaming service not treating content creators like fractioned penny artists. It also used to be as laughable as his modern rap career. Over the past year, one of those facts has changed. From 540k subscribers in 2015 to a staggering three million, the minds behind Tidal seem to be doing something right. Or, it may just be a change in the way the general populace accesses their music. Even if Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo jumped viewership by the millions for the sake of exclusivity, the fact doesn’t escape the climbing subscribers that Tidal has earned. With Spotify at 30 million paying subscribers as of March 2016, streaming is taking over music consumption by force.
Before streaming, digital downloads used to be the primary source for the industry’s digital revenue. Analysts project a shift in the music industry comparable to Netflix killing cable. In IFPI’s Global Music Report for 2016, music streaming has transformed into a titan right before our very eyes. With digital downloads accounting for 45 percent and digital streaming climbing to 43 percent, streaming has become the industry’s fastest-growing revenue source. Let’s put that in perspective. Physical revenue accounts for 39 percent of total revenues, whereas digital revenues now account for 45 percent. That shit’s crazy.
Digital streaming platforms have built their business on the shoulders of content creators, and for them to be treated unfairly is a travesty that we have yet to solve.
That shit’s also a massive issue. Last year, we analyzed the pros and cons amongst a variety of streaming platforms. With a staggering library and subscriber base, Spotify took the crown for its accessibility and open-natured model. This should be great right? While more exposure has traditionally meant more money for the artist, digital streaming platforms manage not to cut artists their fair share. This is due to the fact that we’re currently experimenting with a new type of music consumption. YouTube used to be a huge source for new music, and ever since the birth of streaming platforms and digital streaming monetization, we’ve been abusing the content for the sake of utility. This is screwing artists back into the Stone Age and is creating a large value gap.
Digital services like Spotify are able to bypass license negotiation and also acquire licenses at extremely low rates. Usually someone would speak up about the abuse, but companies are taking advantage of the internet’s early safe harbour rules, exempting companies like Spotify from ever being attacked from their unfair effects of distribution.
Between 2010 and 2015, subscription and ad-supported combined revenues grew more than fourfold to US $2.89 billion.
It’s not like artists aren’t aware of the fact that they’re being screwed over. An LA-based funk band named Vulfpeck dropped an album called Sleepify on Spotify, protesting Spotify’s actions behind their music. Vulfpeck encouraged their listeners to play the album to help them go to sleep, and the evidence is well based on the track list given:
Five minutes of silence. These five minutes of silence reached viral exposure and would go on to earn an estimated $20,000 in royalties to help fund a free tour before being taken down from Spotify.
Tidal shouldn’t be the ark for artists to flock to. Spotify is here to stay, and although the European Commission plans on moving legislature this year to help artists attain reasonable wages for music consumption, artists need to do more and find more avenues of creative extremism to combat the unfair advantages Spotify holds over the content creator. What Vulfpeck did was one of the greatest ways to expose the inequity major digital streaming services create. While I’m sure artists would want intelligent listeners supporting their music, the radio majority has always been ruled by what’s most accessible. Ignoring the banality of a wrong has the tendency to snowball out of control, and it will take more than just artists to speak up about this.
This isn’t to say that artists should be ungrateful for the digital providers that give them exposure, or that artists don’t benefit from finding other ways to attain revenue. While this is all great, these weren’t the fundamentals on which Hip-hop was born.
Like Punk and Metal, Hip-hop was born as a voice for the rebels, the blue collars struggling against the powers that be. Music’s a form of expression in and of itself, and albums like Sleepify are shining examples of taking it to the next level. What about Hip-hop? Besides Tidal being launched with Hip-hop exclusives, where’s the fight against Spotify?
To sit idly by and say that digital streaming platforms don’t monetarily affect the artist or listener is to convince yourself that an open, festering wound appears dull and uninteresting. We tend to let menial problems slide by without a thought, but like putting in hard, consistent work, the same pattern for success exists for failure. If digital streaming is to become the next major revenue source for the music industry, platforms should cooperate with artists rather than extorting them.