Do you find yourself concerned with Spotify’s recent publicity in the news concerning the amounts that they pay out to artists? How about the overall status of music distribution as a whole?
I ask of you and urge you: please… Shake It Off.
Now that we’ve met the T-Swift joke quota, it’s time to focus instead, on the nature of those payouts, and the reasoning for this evolution in the Music Industry. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (i.e. 20 years ago), recording artists were required to persuade the masses to fall for their music just once, and only long enough to purchase a physical CD, cassette tape, or vinyl LP to add to their collection. Appealing to this short attention span swiftly, (sorry, last one), became the forte of major record labels abroad, and allowed the ability to move product quickly:
“Heading to the store to pick up the newest Radiohead album!”
“Have you even heard the entire album?”
“No, but I love “Creep”! I’ll just buy the Pablo Honey album because it must be just as good!”
You can see how this method created a lot of instances where individuals unknowingly walked home with some pretty horrid music in their shopping bags.
Enter the rise of iTunes and the iPod. Suddenly, it wasn’t so easy for labels to stuff lengthy albums with mediocre “filler” tracks. They shifted their methodology to the Church Of 99 Cents, prompting music fans to only purchase the seemingly low-priced singles that they knew and loved. Remember that these fans still OWNED the music that they purchased.
It’s now 2015, and we’re currently experiencing the next big terraforming of the music landscape.
As more of the population shifts to streaming services complete with bottomless barrels of tracks, the format of music as a whole directly influences the behavior of consumption. This is especially true of younger, more modern fans, that grew up with music as an online entity and have less time to track down and discover free music than they do cash to purchase subscriptions.
Of course, there are those standout artists and groups that try their best to break the mold entirely. Directly following the conclusion of their contract with EMI in 2007, Radiohead self-released In Rainbows using a pay-what-you-want model, and they actually earned more revenue than they were expected to if they had gone with a major record label; Jack White released what he calls the “Triple Decker Record”: a vinyl record containing an unreleased B-side song inside of a larger vinyl record, so you literally have to break the outer record if you desire to hear the secret track within. And we all know about T-Swift’s notorious carpet-pull of teasing the masses with her recent 1989 album on Spotify, only to remove it entirely (along with her entire discography) shortly after, thus conducting the most massive frenzy to purchase a newly released album from a major record label in years.
The point is this: music is a business, and now, possibly for the first time in history, the economics of the business have shifted towards long-term quality rather than cheap first impressions. In order to compete, labels and distributors abroad must do everything they can to create lifelong fans, and that’s great news for all of us.