Streaming services for record industry to sing new notes

Global Business

It used to be a case of selling several hundred thousand records to reach number one in the music charts. But times are changing.

Recently, rapper A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie topped the U.S. Billboard 200 chart with his album after selling fewer than 900 digital copies and not a single record or CD.

But the song was streamed around 83 million times and it was that that secured the spot. CGTN’s Phil Lavelle reports.

It’s a big change for an industry that fought hard against digital music just a decade or so ago terrified by the likes of Napster, Limewire and BitTorrent, which gave way to a revolution. It allows the newly harnessed power of the internet to deliver full albums, free of charge. But the industry capitulated following the intense lobbying of Apple’s Steve Jobs and the iPod, allowing the iTunes Store to capture fans’ imaginations.

What they hadn’t banked on was the next step of streaming, music journalist, Andrea Domanick said.

“The rise of the streaming industry has taken the industry completely by surprise,” Domanick said. “Anytime you can give people a product for free or for less money, ultimately that’s what’s gonna win out. You’re seeing the entirety of the industry bow to it and understand that this is now an essential part of how people are consuming music.”

Spotify was the first of the big services, introducing a model that allowed users to pay around $10 a month for an almost unlimited catalog of music, effectively renting access to millions of songs from artists across the spectrum. It took off and services from Google, Apple, Pandora, Deezer and more followed.

But artists were furious. Some publicly withheld their tunes, including Adele and the late Prince. Taylor Swift refused Apple Music access to her catalog after the firm announced it wouldn’t pay artists who were streamed during a user’s three-month free trial. The company later publicly backtracked and agreed to stump up the cash.

But those lower down the chain without the millions of dollars and fans that the likes of Taylor Swift enjoy find that streaming is both a blessing and a curse.

Willow Robinson, a British musician living in Los Angeles has released a number of tracks across streaming services, which give him access to ears he might not have reached.

“It’s great because I can have a global fanbase”, he tells CGTN, adding, “It gives artists who are more niche a platform to actually, sort of, sell their music. Overnight, you can literally have millions of streams. [But] I think it would be good if there was a more even distribution of wealth, ‘cos there’s a lot of money being made on streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music. And the artist is making something like 0.00003 of a penny on a stream, or something.”

That money also has to be split between a number of people such as the artists, the writers, the producers and more. The Co-Producer of Justin Bieber’s smash hit ‘As Long As You Love Me’ has revealed he only made a few hundred dollars for his efforts. Meghan Trainor’s debut single, ‘All About That Bass’ was streamed 178 million times and yet its writer said he only received the relatively small amount of $5,600.

Fed up campaigners took their fight to increase the amount musicians are paid all the way to the top. Michelle Featherstone, a songwriter, producer and singer based in Los Angeles was one of those who campaigned for the Music Modernisation Act, pushing for a number of changes including an update to the amount of royalties that are paid out by streaming services. It was signed into law by President, Donald Trump, last year.

“Songwriters are getting paid a fraction of what they would get paid, even less than a fraction, for an actual download”, she tells CGTN. “You are really finding it difficult as a songwriter to sustain your life as a songwriter because you aren’t getting paid fairly. There was no legislation set up to recognize streaming as a new technology. I think ultimately, doing it this way affords the musician and the songwriter to be paid fairly and that’s the most important thing. “

This is an industry that is expected to keep growing with 350 million streamers expected to be online by 2022. Those behind the music are hoping they won’t be left playing for pennies.