From the way audiences listen to music to how songwriters make music, major streaming platforms have changed music so completely that we won’t fully understand what it all really means for some time. But while the long-term impacts from music streaming are difficult to predict, there’s plenty of massive transformations underway we can talk about now. Here’s three of them:
1. Music’s traditional formats are being broken down into smaller pieces
The album, the format pop music has largely lived on for more than half a century, has been shaken to its core over the past five years. With listeners en masse turning to streaming platforms for music consumption, the album’s place in music has diminished in ways that can’t be ignored. If music now mainly lives on playlists, what is the benefit of investing so much time and money releasing entire albums? This is a question many artists are grappling with, and many have responded by choosing to release their music through singles or with smaller collections of songs. What hasn’t changed yet is the fact that artists typically aren’t seen as legitimate until they release an album. Blogs and press outlets usually don’t highlight musicians who release singles, but that’s likely to change as playlist culture and streaming technology continue to upend norms in the music industry.
2. Streaming technology is presenting new benefits and challenges for artists in terms of exposure
Peruse some of the larger music streaming platforms long enough and you’ll come across artists racking up plays in the millions that you’ve never heard of. In many ways, this simultaneously summarizes some of streaming’s largest benefits and drawbacks in one scene. Streaming tech is connecting listeners with new music in ways we couldn’t have dreamt about a decade ago, but artists are having a hard time turning casual listeners into devoted fans. Listeners are bombarded with new music every week through playlists over streaming platforms, and just because they click a button that “likes,” “saves,” or “loves” an artist’s song doesn’t mean they’ll buy their music, attend their shows, or even remember who they are in a week. Like everything in the music industry, this is a tough problem to address with no easy answers.
3. Money earned through music is becoming scarcer
There’s no doubt about the fact that the major streaming players are helping artists at every level reach new audiences, but at a cost. Not buying music, but instead paying a small fee to listen to as much of it as you can in any given month has become normalized in cultures around the world, which translates to a mass devaluing of work from songwriters, producers, and performers. Small and unestablished musicians have the most to gain from the new music industry because they now have new tools to reach listeners, but career musicians are often put in dire financial circumstances because of music streaming. There’s a lot of good and a lot of bad consequences out there for musicians living in a world that now largely listens to music through streaming profiles, but serious musicians simply can’t do what they do full-time without being paid a reasonable wage.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.