The Problems With Streaming
(And What You Can Do About Them)
We've come a hell of a long way from the days where only vinyl records and cassette tapes could be found in music shops. Remember when you had to listen to songs from track 1 to track 12 on albums? Or how about when money got between you and listening to every band that ever existed? Streaming has taken all of those little annoyances away, having opened us up to a whole new dimension of music, often for free, all-you-can-eat style. We have all of the albums, playlists and songs we could possibly want within a few clicks. Brilliant! Right?
Not always. As much as our favourite streaming platforms have taken away our limitations on our music consumption, perhaps they've also created new issues. And this time, they affect even more people - not just us, the listeners, but those very artists we play day in, day out, and even the record labels which get those artists into our ears.
Part of the issue with streaming is the very thing that attracts people to them in the first place: having it all, and having it yesterday. Isn't it kind of overwhelming? There's a new kind of pressure to know anything and everything about the Next Big Things because investigating them is so much easier, and it's a wonder how we can divide our time, love and money between them all. With so many other things we could be listening to as well, maybe in this era we feel like music has to be more immediate than ever; otherwise we can press pause and stick something else on. It reduces our appreciation for what we hear because we don't have to focus as much on it. We ignore how great music doesn't always have to be immediate - some music demands time and attention, but is so much more rewarding as a result. But the decline of our appreciation for music doesn't end there; streaming has perhaps also diminished our appreciation for albums. For some reason, we prefer to just play a few songs on repeat rather than take the time to unwind with an album playing from start to finish. We've become complacent. Some might say we're lazier listeners. If you think about it for too long, it seems almost depressing.
But for the artists, it's even worse. Sure, they still earn money from streaming, sure it's better than piracy, but it's still not enough. On Spotify, for example, it takes roughly 1,000-10,000 plays of a song just for the artist to earn a dollar. Album sales have plummeted as a result of streaming, leaving bands with only merch and tours to make money from. And when you consider part of the reason that Warped Tour is ending is declining ticket sales, things look pretty grim on that end too.
The music industry is cut-throat enough as it is. Many fellow creators on Vocal would understand that making money from what you love is often part of the dream, but alongside the frustration of that, it makes it harder to live off that dream. Some band members are still working 'normal' jobs on the side because the money they make from their music isn't enough. Other bands have caved in entirely. It's devastating. It's tough. They need more of our support.
Imagine squeezing toothpaste out of the tube and trying to put it all back in again. You can't do it. It's the same with streaming. I'm not suggesting you abandon Apple Music right this second and swear to only buy vinyl for the rest of your life (unless you want to). We just have to think about how much we stream and the impacts on both us as listeners and the artists we listen to. I'm doing exactly the same; even now I sometimes think I use Spotify too much. But we can get there.
If you have the money, try buying your albums when you can - I do. I listen to it on Spotify first to prevent wasting money on something I'm not going to like, and then I download it on iTunes. Perhaps you can go a bit further and support an indie record store at the same time. See how you appreciate it differently from how you would if you streamed it - I've certainly noticed a difference. And even better, no internet connection required!
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