As a music nerd living in the internet age, the fact that I seemingly have access to everything signals to me a utopia of sorts. There’s no two ways about it, I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the latest new releases in music if it weren’t for my subscriptions to Apple Music and Spotify (and my Tidal account I reactivate each time a big album is released there). Yet, for a while now, we’ve been somewhat aware of just how little the artists themselves are benefitting from these services. What with research going into how metadata creates problems in publishing, strongly worded open-letters from artists and the fact that y’know, artists have been rather directly telling us how shitty these services are for them for a while now. It’s become clear that with Spotify reportedly using fake artists to put up music, entering the Stockmarket and constantly being involved with law suits that they are not the democratic and multi-dimensional streaming service that we thought they would be. Rather, as Damon Krukowski points out in his excellent article on Pitchfork, Spotify is a system which mainly benefits the top 10% selling artists and if you use “a streaming service to listen to anything other than the most-streamed tracks, your money isn’t supporting what you’re hearing”.
So what are we to do? Should we give up our instant access to all this fantastic and beautiful music, well no, because it’s not our access which is the problem- it’s the means in which we attain it which contributes to a system that commodifies art and creates a deep disparity between the 30 odd artists at the top and everyone else making music.
A vital framework to work with when thinking about streaming is to think of each time you listen to something as money. It might not be money you are paying directly but through the revenue generated by ads, streaming data and general popularity- every time you stream something you are in effect putting a very small amount of money in the artists pocket. Nice! Now that we acknowledge this we can move on and decide where it’s best to use our stream and if you understand how subheadings work, then this place is Bandcamp. There are so many great things about Bandcamp, from the fact that it creates a direct link between artists and their music, its online community and the fact that most of the time you can stream entire albums for free.
The best thing about Bandcamp however is how much it undoubtedly supports the artists compared to other streaming services. Most independent artists make the bulk of their money from Bandcamp and that is largely owing to the revenue generated by streaming services. So next time when you find an artist you want to check out, see if they have a Bandcamp – it’s the same amount of money you’re spending, it’s just that they’re getting more.
Try also to avoid what Spotify recommends you listen to next through playlists, because these playlists are systemically geared towards providing exposure to artists who are already popular. A shining example of this is Spotify’s partnership with Smirnoff to bridge the gap in gender equality, which seemed to only recommend artists who were already well known, popular and most likely towards the top end of streaming revenue. If you’re looking for new artists similar to the ones you already like you have at your disposal music journalism sites, forums and a variety of other places you can quite easily find what you’re looking for. The internet is a pretty great resource for finding new music on your own – empower yourself to do this by connecting with people and their opinions rather than an algorithm.
If you really vibe with the music and you’re considering buying physical copies of it you, should definitely consider buying directly from the artist’s website if possible. That way the profit usually goes through either the artists independent label or through a label that has afforded them a lot more profit than your local JB-Hi-Fi would. Once you get the physical release as well, feel free to participate in this wonderful tradition called sharing. No, not sharing of the music itself but of the information that’s contained within the CD booklet about songwriting, production and instrumental credits. Putting this information on websites like Discogs and RYM enables more recognition to go to these people who also work on the music, recognition which not only reaches other people in the music business but also pressures streaming services to pay royalties where they’re due, as Spotify has recently started including songwriting and production credits to a bare minimum of artists that needs to be expanded upon.
Ultimately what’s problematic about streaming doesn’t come down to the fact that you get music for a far more reduced price than you used to. It’s because the main primary figures in the business provide a model of music consumption that goes largely unchallenged by its listeners. It is in the challenging and alternating of these models that music listeners can fight for a lot less disparity in the music business. So be creative, form online communities, make lots of your own playlists to share with your friends, check out the plethora of music websites which provide a direct link to artists and fans and just have a great time engaging with the music in your own way rather than the increasingly sanitised dimensions of the major streaming services.