Over the last few years, the world of music streaming has absolutely blown up. It isn’t hard to remember a time before Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal, but now companies like this seem to dominate music consumption, and the discourse surrounding it. Some artists have found success through the avenues provided by streaming services, others have rallied against it constantly, and a couple have had a bit of fun with it. We decided to take a look into what was going on in the streaming world, and some of the craziest things that have come from the revolutionary platform of music consumption.
Help Nelly Ride Wit Crippling Debt!
You guys remember Nelly, right? C’mon, sure you do… ‘Ride Wit Me’ ‘Hot In Here’ etc? Well, back in September of this year, Nelly landed himself in some hot in here water with the IRS – America’s version of the ATO – after it turned out that the cheeky R’n’B heartthrob owed almost $2.5 million. After the news broke, fans of the R’n’B sensation started the #SaveNelly campaign, the aim of which was to stream ‘Hot In Here’ enough times to bring Nelly out of debt. If you think that sounds too crazy to work, well… you’d probably be right. Spin crunched the numbers on the idea, and found that the track would need to be streamed between 287,176,547 and 402,880,500 times to earn the 41-year-old enough dough to pay his debt off in full. That is before taking into consideration the distribution of his streaming revenue to his label and managers. Even with a song that is as much of an absolute banger as ‘Hot In Here’, it’s rather hard to imagine that many people wanting to listen to it that many times. Still though, it’s nice that people care enough about Nelly and his tax fraud to try. There’s still good in the world after all.
Thom Yorke The Flip-Flopper.
Radiohead‘s iconic frontman Thom Yorke has always been a pretty outspoken guy. From his strong opinions on climate change to his loathing of his own song ‘Creep’, which brought his band to international attention, he’s never been afraid to speak his mind. Streaming is a topic he has been fairly vocal about in the past, adding to his every expanding rap sheet. In a 2010 interview, he described streaming services as “the last desperate fart of a dying corpse.” Ouch. He continued by claiming that “all these fuckers get in the way, like Spotify are suddenly trying to become the gatekeepers to the whole process.” Double ouch. In protest, he refused to allow his band Atom For Peace‘s music to be featured on Spotify, citing underpayment of upcoming artists as his primary concern. Most of Radiohead‘s music is available on Spotify, as the band doesn’t actually own it – it’s the property of their label. Their stunning self-released record In Rainbows is the only one of their cuts that isn’t accessible on the service. Yet, somewhat inexplicably, all of Atoms For Peace‘s music, along with In Rainbows, became available on Apple Music when that streaming service launched in 2015. It’s a bit weird, because Apple Music doesn’t pay its artists a considerable amount more than Spotify, and if Thom Yorke was all that against streaming, wouldn’t he have stretched his views across all of the services? He’s never public commented about the incident, but I suppose the karma police will get him for his hypocrisy in the end.
For Vulfpeck, Silence is Golden
In March 2015, American funk band Vulfpeck found a pretty amazing way around the low artist royalties offered by Spotify. They did this by releasing a five-minute album constructed of ten 30 second tracks entitled Sleepify. What was unique about the album was that it didn’t feature a single sound – it was complete and utter silence. The band encouraged their fans to stream the album on a constant loop as they slept, thus generating royalties which the band used to fund a free American tour. In July 2014, Billboard reported that the band received royalties totaling $19,655 plus an anticipated $1,100 forthcoming. The release of the album and the subsequent payout that the band received exposed a pretty serious loophole in Spotify‘s royalty calculation model. Sleepify was pulled from Spotify in April 2014, with the company citing an unspecified violation of their content policies, even though they had previously seemed to support the release, calling it a “clever stunt.” I myself listened to
I listened to Sleepify a few times when it was first released, and I thought it was a pretty good album, but all of the songs kind of sounded the same…
Courtney Barnett has been winning hearts all across Australia for a few years now, and in the last little whilst she has become a bit of an international darling as well. After appearing on American late night TV and doing a tour of the states, she had possibly one of the biggest moments of her career thanks to Spotify and prez Barack Obama. In August of this year, the USA’s coolest president since Bill Clinton dropped his summer playlist. The playlist itself could have come from any 20 year old hipster’s Spotify account. Obama is pretty much a 20-year-old hipster in a 55-year-old president’s body anyway. Featuring in amongst artists like Jay-Z and Janelle Monae was our very own pride of Melbourne Courtney Barnett. As it turns out, the POTUS digs himself a little bit of ‘Elevator Operator.’ It’s pretty sweet to know that the guy who lifted the long-standing US ban on Cuban cigars, helped guide a global superpower out of a financial crisis, and paved the way for marriage equality throughout the country has a good taste in tunes too.
Dr. Dre Builds Compton’s First Youth Arts Centre
Back in the days of 2015, Apple Music came on the scene as a direct competitor to Spotify, quickly establishing themselves as a force to be reckoned with. Dr. Dre, who has a vested interest in Apple since selling his Beats by Dr. Dre empire to them, offered an exclusive which drew subscribers to the new service in droves. A follow-up to Dre‘s outstanding sophomore record 2001 had been almost 16 years in the making, with many stops and starts on its production throughout the years. While working on the N.W.A biopic ‘Straight Outta Compton’, Dre was inspired to finally finish the mythical record. The album itself could never live up to the years of hype surrounding it, but it did contain a few choice numbers in the end, particularly two outstanding cuts with Kendrick Lamar. The album was released as an Apple Music exclusive and wasn’t available in any other formats or on any other platforms. But what was really great about the release was how the streaming royalties were spent. Every cent raised by the record went toward building a youth-orientated performing arts centre in the American town of Compton, a place which has been synonymous with violence for many decades. In an interview, when discussing the donation to the community, Dre (who grew up in Compton and started his career there) said: “I’ve been really trying to do something special for Compton and just couldn’t quite figure out what it was. I feel it’s the right thing to do.”
Streaming is nothing if not a divisive issue in the modern music business landscape, and these five stories are just a snapshot of the large, and wide-spanning culture that is forming around the very modern form of musical consumption. Streaming is really still rather uncharted territory, which we are slowly but surely beginning to map out, for better or worse.