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How to Be a Responsible Music Fan in the Age of Streaming

Posted on February 3rd, 2018 at 17:58 by John Sinteur in category: News -- Write a comment


For years, disruptive digital businesses have countered complaints like mine with assurances that everything will be different in the future, once millions and millions of people around the world adopt their application. Well, here we are. Spotify now claims 140 million active users, 70 million of whom are paid subscribers, and the total consumption of audio streams in the U.S. jumped by an estimated 50 percent last year. But while it’s clear that some are earning significant paychecks from streaming as a result—“Happy days are here again,” Billboard gushed last March, reporting the fastest growth for the industry in decades—most musicians are not.

The basic reason is simple: According to the data trackers at BuzzAngle Music, more than 99 percent of audio streaming is of the top 10 percent most-streamed tracks. Which means less than 1 percent of streams account for all other music.


Consider the dominant streaming video service, Netflix, which now has more subscribers than all cable providers combined. While Netflix has grown more popular, it has diminished its content to the point where it recently hosted only 25 movies made before 1950, as Zach Schonfeld pointed out in Newsweek. “It’s the sort of classics selection you’d expect to find in a decrepit video store in 1993,” Schonfeld wrote, “not on a leading entertainment platform that serves some 100 million global subscribers.”

The streaming music catalog is currently in a much better state. But it could only be a matter of time until these companies lose interest in the 90 percent of music that doesn’t return even 1 percent of their gross. It seems likely that they will eventually jettison these less-played tracks for different content—just look at Netflix.

Or look now at how badly their applications already serve entire genres of less popular music. Spotify lists recordings by song title, album title, or featured artist name. But that information is so limited it leaves out even the other performers on a recording, a crucial aspect to classical and jazz. For that matter, performers are kind of important to rock, too! Not to mention songwriters, producers, engineers, publishers, record labels—almost all the labor that goes into making recordings is erased from the databases used by the major streaming services.

Why hide all that information, all that context to each recording? Digital services are so good at handling massive amounts of data—just think how much Spotify knows about each of us. And yet they can’t bring themselves to specify which of the radically different Miles Davis Quintets played on which album—is it the one with John Coltrane and Philly Joe Jones, or the one with Wayne Shorter and Tony Williams?

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