This week, Billboard has come out with a piece on a new open letter penned by a coalition of Swedish songwriters, speaking out jointly on the dangers of streaming music. They say that their "voices are seldom heard" on the topic, as the article reports, and they allege that streaming powerhouses like Spotify and Pandora don't compensate artists fairly for the right to play their music, in such a way that allows consumers to circumvent having to purchase songs and albums through traditional means, whether those are record stores or iTunes or anywhere else.
The conversation as of late has veritably exploded on the subject of music streaming, particularly as Jay Z has just recently made a move to acquire Swedish streaming company Aspiro, in a coup that would further enhance his status as a music mogul as well as a hip hop artist. In fact, should the platform catch on with the power of Jay Z's empire behind it, we'd even go so far as to say that the Aspiro grab could effectively make him the next hit-maker to rule them all, right up at the top alongside Simon Cowell, LA Reid, Scooter Braun and Clive Davis. Although he's already had a history of shaping some of the biggest artists of the decade (think: Rihanna), now he'll presumably have a space to package up and heavily promote the music of the artists he feels will be the next big things over the coming years.
Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the spectrum, at the recent star-studded Grammy Awards, a number of artists including Jennifer Hudson and Maroon 5's Adam Levine publicly committed to joining forces in order to hold back the oncoming tidal wave of streaming (learn more at the GRAMMY Creators Alliance website), which threatens to change the entire industry model and make it more difficult for artists to monetize their content off traditional platforms -- especially their greatest commodity: their music. Adding her star-power to the mix is heavyweight and A-lister Taylor Swift, the "1989" superstar who many say is the preeminent pop sensation of 2015. Swift also stands resolute against streaming and has made it a rule not to allow her music to be a part of the practice.
The anti-streaming stance is based on the fact that streaming platforms in general simply don't pay artists enough royalties for the artists to sustain themselves, meaning that, financially, streaming is -- at least in the short term -- not the most lucrative move.
On the contrary, apologists of streaming say that it boosts up-n-coming artists' profiles by giving them exposure to a vast mega-audience that they might not otherwise be able to reach by forcing listeners to pay for their full songs (which can be a dissuading factor for those who may not want to spend $15.99 on an album). The upshot here is getting famous faster, for the trade-off of making substantial revenue along the way -- something many artists struggle to do anyway. That said, faster fame equals more marketability, meaning that an agent can take a client who has blown up on Vevo and Vimeo and YouTube -- and now Pandora and Spotify and possibly even the new incarnation of Aspiro -- and package up their persona for a multimillion dollar brand endorsement deal. But all of that weighs on the hope that they take off via some of these free, minimal revenue-generating platforms anyway (kind of a la Justin Bieber who ascended to fame thanks to YouTube way back when). And, then the question becomes, although artists and personalities certainly care about the sizable paychecks that can result from a brand endorsement, since when did we put out content exclusively to accrue fans in the hopes that we can funnel that buzz into a contract with a corporation?
Here's our bottom line, the Reed Alexander Media takeaway from this battle over streaming: Whether or not streaming is for the better or the worse (which ultimately only time can tell), it definitely must be taken seriously as the game-changer it is. It's going to transform the music industry by fundamentally altering the very model of how artists monetize themselves and reinvest into their brands. And, it's bound to change how representatives do their jobs too.
Most importantly in all this, what do you think? You've heard the basic premise of both sides -- who's right? Tweet me and let me know how you feel about streaming. Do you use it? Do you listen to streamed music? Or does it spell out the end of the music industry as we know it? Either way, if I had to point out one genre that accurately captures the emotion that people on both sides of the turf war over streaming have invested into this debate, I'd vote that it'd be less of a ballad, and more along the lines of screeching heavy metal.