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Has Streaming Damaged The Music Industry?

I usually tune out what Kanye West has to say but in a recent Business Bytes interview he said “Songwriters have been really hurt by streaming platforms.”

Ye gets it right this time. And he’s not alone in feeling the way, many artists feel that streaming is hurting music. 

The Guardian cites the recent example of Stranger Things catapulting Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill into the current sonic landscape, something that simply doesn’t seem likely to have happened when people rely on Spotify, Apple, etc. to suggest music similar to things they already like. 

But are they right? Or is it possible that everyone’s being unfair to the streaming services? We went to investigate.

The Music Industry And Some Startling Statistics

There’s a lot of music out there, in fact according to the CEOs of Universal and Warner, there are around 100,000 new tracks added to music libraries every single day now!

Spotify sees 60,000 new tracks added daily too. The company commands 36% of the global web music streaming audience, this includes 248 million active users and 113 million premium subscribers. 

On average each Spotify user consumes 25 hours of content a month and nearly 8 hours of that time is spent listening to Spotify’s curated playlists. And Spotify does a lot of research to try and establish what we listen to and how we listen. 

And Spotify is just one of a growing number of streaming music services on the Internet. And there’s no doubt that Spotify and streaming has changed the way we consume music, permanently. 

One final statistic before we look at whether streaming is “ruining music”, Google now says that there are nearly 100 million different songs online in total. 

So, Is Streaming Ruining Music? The Math Says “No”

If we assume that Spotify is not “rigging the deck” (i.e. promoting music only if it has been paid to do so) then the chances of it playing you any individual track, with some modifications for your current taste profile, is about 1 in 100 million. 

To put that in context your chances of winning the British lottery are 45 million to one. So, just to land in front of you, any given song has to beat the odds of winning one of the world’s major lotteries, twice over!

And once it does? Well, to have any chance of getting ahead just on its own merits – that is it’s a song from an artist that you don’t know and haven’t shared with others before – it has to grab you immediately and be noteworthy enough for you to share it.

Then, once you share that song with your friends, they have to like it enough to share it again, and their friends must do it again, and again, and again, in order for that song to reach “critical mass” and have the kind of impact that Kate Bush did with Running Up That Hill this year.

But this isn’t unfair and it’s not streaming “ruining music”, it’s just the way that the odds play out. 

Of course, because Spotify and other streaming services have developed algorithms to serve music to your taste, our example is oversimplified. 

It may be that a song has a much greater chance of reaching your ears or much less depending on how similar it is to things you already like. 

However, you slice it though, the chances of a song making it “big” through this kind of discovery are very, very slight, indeed.

Hits Are More Likely From Other Discovery Vehicles

TV is clearly a better medium for music discovery that leads to big hits.

With the Stranger Things example, millions of people watched the episode containing Kate Bush’s song at the same time. Those who loved it immediately began to stream the song.

This told the algorithms that this song was hot stuff and should be promoted more heavily than other songs. This increased the reach on streaming services and soon everyone was listening to the song.

Final Notes

Streaming has drastically changed the way that we consume music.

Is this unfair to some? Probably in some hard-to-discern fashion.

However, the old system of radio and TV airplay was also unfair to some. Ask any black metal band about how much airtime their songs got on the traditional channels and why extreme metal has always struggled to find an audience in the past.

This doesn’t mean that music has been hurt by the change.

Spotify says they’ve paid out over $21 billion to artists for streaming their songs, so far.

That’s a pretty big paycheck and one which we’re positive that Kanye got his share of.