Streams, Streams & More Streams
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In 1993 on the campus of University of California Santa Cruz, Rob Lord Jeff Patterson and Jon Luini created the first functioning music streaming service. They called it the Internet Underground Music Archive or IUMA for short and it was created for unsigned artists to share music and communicate with fans and it was totally free for its users. The technology of that day were FTP and Gopher sites that were not available to a vast number of people back then and computer networks didn’t have an enormous amount of bandwidth to handle this new emerging service for new artists.
Fast forward 25 years and with the evolution of technology and the extreme monetization of the word stream it has morphed into a term of reverence, admiration and adoration from artists, managers and radio & record executives. With this tone of glorification, some in the music industry say that streaming has single handily saved the entire music business from the brink of disaster and total financial destruction.
By all current reported trends this digital form of audio is now being forecasted as over the next 10 years as the leader to a road of financial utopia all the way from the offices of the infamous big 3 that dominate the global marketplace in recording to the in-home sometimes basement studios from DIY artists that populate the world. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry is one of the leaders of information gathering on the music industry and they found in 2017 audio streaming was the industries single largest revenue source. Digital revenue grew 15% from the previous year to 6.5 billion driven largely a 53% increase in streaming globally per the study with both ad-supported and subscription music services and the projected trend for 2018 is at least 12+%.
I record a weekly hip-hop and politics podcast titled “3 Black Guys with a Mic” with Charles “Spudd” Spence and Maynard Scales where we all have a combined 50+ years of experience in radio and records. Recently we sparked a discussion about the influx of all the great music being released in the marketplace and by our estimations, it’s coming at a rapid fires pace. We named some industry titans that recently released new projects like Drake, Kanye, Nas & J&B aka the Carters. We also gave mention to some of the HOT young guns releasing music like Ella Mae, SZA & H.E.R. and by our estimations, it came back to back.
I decided pose a question to the other Black Guys: Why do I feel like I’m in an audio peep show relationship with Tidal? I’m enjoying all this new music and I’m paying my monthly subscription but I don’t own any of this music?? I also go back and explain the origin of streaming and it was never designed for me to own. Maynard then asked where did I get the term “audio peep show” and I had to reference my new favorite TV show POSE.
This show is on FX and is centered around the '80s ballroom culture in New York, combined with portrayals of the struggles of LGBTQ life during the Reagan era. This show has many stories within the main story as one character named Stan Bowes is a business man who works in The Donald Trump Organization is enamored with a transgendered woman named Angel. He goes to talk to Angel at her place of employment which is at a peep show on 42nd Street to ask her out on a date. While I’m watching this scene every time he wants to speak to her he must put a quarter and after a few minutes the partition comes down and then there is NO more peep! Then it dawns on me that this is the new music business model where you put in a quarter (or in my case $12.00 a month) and you get an audio peep and once your subscription for the month is over no more music!
Monthly, millions of people across the world pay a fee to listen to as much music as each streaming service can offer but on the 29th day of each billing cycle if you don’t have another service fee no more music! I am aware the market does allow for free streaming ad-based services but once I realized how the music business has trained today’s consumers into paying for a monthly audio peep with zero manufacturing, shipping and minimal promotional costs on these new releases and all I could do was say OMG and good job for turning all the red ink from the 1990’s into black into the 2000’s! Finally, I asked when did the cool factor leave consumers having ownership of the music experience? Why did we just give up this ownership option so freely?
Over the years I have experienced artists express how music is their art and they want people to enjoy it in its best possible form. I’ve worked with artists that have said the music they create is for enjoyment and to create magical moments when fans take ownership of it when they read the linear notes and admire the artwork that that came with the musical creation. In my opinion with the digital experience all these options are lost and most importantly the audio file that is delivered via many streaming services is compressed due to large volumes of data being transported daily and some of that audio magic that the artist wants to deliver is destroyed. In contrast with the current streaming boom of data from Nielsen Holdings shows vinyl recordings sold in the United States hit a record high in 2017 with 14.32 million copies. This is a 9% percent jump from the previous year of 13.1 million copies being sold.
|TOP 10 SELLING VINYL ALBUMS OF 2017 IN U.S.|
|1||The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band||72,000|
|2||The Beatles, Abbey Road||66,000|
|3||Soundtrack, Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1||62,000|
|4||Ed Sheeran, ÷ (Divide)||62,000|
|5||Amy Winehouse, Back to Black||58,000|
|6||Prince and the Revolution, Purple Rain (Soundtrack)||58,000|
|7||Bob Marley and The Wailers, Legend: The Best Of…||49,000|
|8||Pink Floyd, The Dark Side of the Moon||54,000|
|9||Soundtrack, La La Land||49,000|
|10||Michael Jackson, Thriller||49,000|
|Source: Nielsen Music, for the tracking period Dec. 30, 2016 through Dec. 28, 2017.|
In the mid 1800’s news of gold spread the globe bringing hundreds of thousands of people to the State of California in search of a better world filled with gold. I’m often called delusional at times on my podcast but this streaming boom has taken hold of the music industry with the same fervor.
Yes, I understand from the short term it has taken an industry soaked in red to the black but the most important thing is being lost on the process and that is the experience of creating magical moments with the art of music and that includes ownership of it and not treating it like a peep show on 42nd Street back in 1982!
Lamonte G. Hayes