The future of streaming


Did you know though that Spotify only pays bands about £0.003p per play? I


When you take into account distribution costs an independent band always starts out at a loss and need tens of thousands of streams before they can even consider turning a profit. That assumes you write off recording and marketing costs completely.


So what do you do? Isn’t the streaming model broken anyway? It’s killed the music industry, the music industry is now dead. Isn’t it? 


Even Spotify itself hasn’t made a profit once in 10 years. Not once. 


Well, no, I’m not really one of these ‘the music industry is dead’ type of people, it’s just changed (again). 


I think it's useful sometimes to look for clues in the past to see where we may end up in the future. In the case of the music industry you have to go back in time almost 130 years…


The past

Back in the 1890s the ‘music industry’ comprised of selling sheet music off the back of travelling minstrel shows so people could learn to play the songs at home afterwards. At the turn of the century the Piano Roll was invented, the first mechanical reproduction of a song, and people said the music industry was dead for the first time. Who’s going to buy the sheet music and play the song when they can hear it being played on the piano roll? 


They did, in fact sales increased as people were even more inspired to learn how to play these great tunes.


Over the next 100 years the industry survived the transition from print to recording, the birth of radio, the restriction of the use of lacquer in the 2nd world war, television, the invention of tape, CDs, Napster, and the birth of paid downloads. At every point someone was there saying the music industry was dead. And at every point it turned out it wasn’t.


The present

We learn from its history is that the music industry is resilient. It’s sometimes slow to change, but when there’s big money at stake at the top it finds a way. And when the top does well the independent scene generally follows. Streaming is it’s next challenge, and we’re just at the beginning of it.


My band started nearly 6 years ago when streaming wasn’t really a mainstream thing yet. We gave away downloads of first couple of EPs for free to get people hooked, and trusted that enough of the new fans we gained would like us enough to buy T-Shirts and CDs - thankfully they did. In a reasonably short period of time the way we consume music changed dramatically. 


In 2014 the Official UK Charts Company decided to include streaming services in its figure for the first time. Then in 2015 digital music revenue, including streaming, overtook CD sales for the first time. And in 2016 streaming alone took over downloads and physical sales in the US.


Ultimately music is a consumer driven market and there is clearly now a growing audience of millions of potential consumers who listen to and discover music through platforms like Spotify. So although there’s still an issue with money, it seems fair to conclude that now is probably a good time to get involved.


The future

As independent artists we probably can’t turn huge profits out of streaming alone based on what these sites currently pay. But we’ll let the music industry figure that out like it usually does, in the meantime maybe we can make it work for us in another way.


I also don't think streaming will entirely replace CDs and Downloads on the independent scene for quite some time. In fact when we gave away downloads of our last EP for FREE people still bought CDs. Some of those people were the SAME people who downloaded the EP - but that's a post for another day!


As with everything independent, it's important to work out what success really looks like for you - often it's not all about profit. Instead streaming has a useful place on the independent scene in helping bands reach a wider audience than ever before, and in a more targeted way than just piggybacking on the algorithms of social media pages.


Think about it, people are on Spotify specifically to listen to music! The challenge as always is to find them, this has been made somewhat easier with the rise in independent playlists, although navigating those and avoiding ones advocating poor practice like Stream 4 Stream can be a challenge. 


Share you favourite independent playlists with us and we'll post the ones we love, and let us know your thoughts on the future of streaming.

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