the rise of streaming

November 21, 2019

Streaming services garner more opportunities, obstacles for up-and-coming artists

By Molly Schramm | The Beat Editor

F or alt-pop band 90’s Kids, streaming services have been everything. Frontman Corey Mouch recalls the day he woke up and realized Spotify added the band’s first song to one of its curated playlists.

“Spotify picked it up in their discover algorithms, and we reached all kinds of new markets and new people,” Mouch said. “And honestly, that was really what kept us going.”

Services like Spotify and Apple Music have become second nature to the everyday music listener, but in the past decade, streaming has not only domineered music consumption but the entire business side of industry.

Streaming culture has skyrocketed the accessibility of music by allowing consumers to listen to practically any song or album at the touch of a button. 89% of individuals 16 to 64 years old listen to music via on-demand streaming, per the 2019 Music Listening report from International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, or IFPI. Furthermore, 52% of individuals 16 to 24 years old have used streaming services in the past month, according to the report.

According to the Recording Industry of America, the number of paid music subscriptions in the U.S. exceeded 60 million in the first half of 2019. As of July 2019, Spotify globally had a whopping 232 million users overall, with 108 million of those being paying users. In June, Apple Music globally had a total of 60 million users.

With millions using these streaming services, artists and bands have been able to quickly cross borders and reach listeners in ways that were unheard of pre-streaming. At the top of the totem pole, Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You” sits as the most streamed song on Spotify with roughly 2.3 billion plays. Coming in second is Drake’s 2016 hit “One Dance” with roughly 1.7 billion streams.

With the help of Spotify distributors, it’s relatively easy for any artist to upload music to the streaming service. While that would presumably seem like a great thing for any up-and-coming artists, Eddie Ashworth, an associate professor of media arts and studies, cautions the overwhelming amount of music out there.

“It makes it much harder to reach an audience,” Ashworth said.

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Anyone can make music on their laptop. The introduction of digital audio workstations, or DAWs, has allowed individuals to learn the ins and outs of music production. In fact, many big-time musicians still use DAWs. Nonetheless, the influx of recorded music makes the talent pool on streaming services all the more intense.

“Whereas before you had to spend a lot of money to go to a studio or put together your own studio, DAWs have brought that price point down so that anybody can make a record pretty much, which is good and bad,” Ashworth said.

Streaming services have become saturated in talent, and as a musician and singer himself, Mouch views streaming services as a double-edged sword.

“Spotify and streaming services kind of allow you to have this launching pad in this platform, (but) it’s also so hard to stand out,” Mouch said.

90’s Kids’ roots originate in Athens. Mouch, Robby MacAskill and Matt King formed the band as OU students and eventually added drummer Jordan McVey. The four now balance full-time jobs with, as Mouch would put it, their second full-time jobs.

“We all work, and you know, when you have a full-time job, you get vacation days, and that’s something that’s a perk,” Mouch said. “But for us, we act like we have no vacation days because we use those to tour and play shows and record.”

Despite streaming’s flaws, Mouch says he and the rest of the band owe any success of theirs to the many different streaming services. Currently, 90’s Kids has more than 21,500 Spotify monthly listeners, and the band’s top-streamed song, “Champagne,” sits with more than 242,000 plays.

Mouch recalled the time the band’s first song gained 10,000 streams after Spotify picked it up and added it to one of the service’s playlists. Prior to that, the band was gaining only a couple hundred streams a day, but they were exposed to new markets after Spotify’s algorithm skyrocketed them.

“(Spotify) is what made this turn into something we really wanted to pursue rather than just a fun thing we were doing as a passion project,” Mouch said.

Even with the added positives of streaming, Mouch and Ashworth both stressed that up-and-coming artists can’t rely on their talents to make them famous. Making a name for yourself in the music industry takes drive. The two also agreed there’s no simple formula for growing as an artist.

“You have to be looking at all of your opportunities to publicize yourself, which is tiring if you’re an artist,” Ashworth said.

Mouch says artists have to be authentic to themselves but still realize they’re making music for the masses.

“While it is important to be yourself and put out the type of music that you want to put out, it’s also important to know that especially in today’s day and age, the success of an artist is dependent on whether people like their music and can relate to their music,” Mouch said.

Streaming has dominated music sales in the past five or so years. Overall, the global music industry brought in $19.1 billion in 2018, according to the 2019 Global Music Report from IFPI. Digital revenues increased 21.1% in 2018 to an overall $11.2 billion.

Overall revenues are broken down into physical, digital (excluding streaming), streaming, performance and synchronization rights. Streaming dominates the categories at $8.9 billion, with physical revenues following at $4.7 billion.

Spotify reportedly pays artists $0.00437 per stream, which means artists would need just under 337,000 streams to amass $1,472.

“The negative for artists is that there’s no money in streaming,” Ashworth said. “Even for major artists, you know, money is minimal, which is patently unfair.”

Mouch said synchronization rights are the route many independent artists take to obtain any profit from their music. Synchronization rights entail any royalties obtained from music soundtracking any time of movie, television show, commercial or video.

“Those kinds of placements allow artists to make an income as well as selling merchandise and playing shows,” Mouch said. “That’s kind of become the lifeblood of artists.”

Ashworth said it’s hard to project what’s next for music consumption because you just never know. Ashworth noted the disappearance of vinyl to ensure the success of the CD industry but circled back to how vinyl has had a resurgence. Vinyl sales are projected to surpass CD sales for the first time since 1986, according to the Recording Industry Association of America’s 2019 mid-year report.

“The experience to listening to sound being extracted from a rotating piece of vinyl miraculously is a lot more satisfying and, you know, sort of tactfully, essentially, than listening to digital files,” Ashworth said.

Despite the increase in vinyl sales, streaming and MP3s are still the primary way music is consumed now, Mouch said.

“These streaming services have given you all of these algorithmic playlists, which allow you to hop on and anytime say, ‘I want to find something new based on what I’ve already listened to,’ Mouch said. “And it’s made (music) so consumable for people.”

AUTHOR: Molly Schramm
EDITOR: Bennett Leckrone
COPY EDITOR: Bre Offenberger
ILLUSTRATION: Rilee Lockhart