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The Devaluation of Music: A Look at Streaming and Consumer Habits

Earlier this year, some of my favorite artists decided to take a stand against Joe Rogan, and requested to have their discographies removed from Spotify. Although it began as a protest against the misinformation and crudity the streaming platform willingly hosted, a different conversation arose in the coming months about money – or lack thereof – in the music industry.

We’re all aware of certain hierarchies and the one percents of the world, but it is exceptionally alarming when even the ones that have “made it” are warning the masses. From Pharrell and Kenny Beats, commenting in the most recent episode of OTHERtone, that the music industry isn’t the place to go for easy money, to David Crosby ( ¼  of CSNY, who all removed their music from Spotify) claiming he isn’t fond of Digital Streaming Platforms (DSPs) in general because they, “don’t pay [artists] properly,” it’s hard to turn a blind eye at the issue.

So what’s happening and where is all the money hiding? Well, one thing is for sure – it isn’t in streaming. If we’re looking specifically at Spotify, they’ve been reported to pay an average of $0.004 a stream, meaning an artist would have to get at least 250 streams to earn a dollar from their platform. The sparse amount distributed through DSPs makes it crucial for artists to expand their brands and build an audience who is willing to support them outside of streaming – something social media and TikTok makes more attainable for new artists. Most of the time tours, merch, and more recently sponsorships have been the bread and butter of some of your favorite artists. 

While I wouldn’t go as far as to say that there was more money to go around in the past, there definitely has been a change in the overall value of music, which explains why streaming conglomerates get away with such low rates. Music distribution has gone through a lot of changes. Starting with physical copies – and skipping sheet music for times sake – for a while, vinyl records were a crowd favorite until they were beat in sound quality by cassettes in the 70s. A decade later, CDs took over the market, being the last of its kind prior to digital downloading.

Before the digital age, the only way to have access to music was to directly invest in it through the aforementioned physical mediums. But as the industry entered its digital era and piracy became more common, listeners were no longer required to pay for music, turning it into a passive experience. The shift that occurred in the last century could only be described as a phenomenon of devaluation.

Since music has been readily available and free, with the exception of monthly subscriptions, the average consumer isn’t as willing to invest money in artists and single projects – and this is coming from a person who has grown up in the digital world, and never had to consider purchasing music until they took an interest in vinyl records. Recently, this observation was exemplified when Ye (a.k.a Kanye West), announced that his most recent album Donda 2 would only be available on his “Stem Player,” a device his fans had to buy for a whopping $200. Music criticism aside, many people expressed their skepticism when it came to the worth of the project, and I don't blame them.

While it is easy to point fingers at consumers, I think we should all be looking at the middle-man to make the right adjustments. The only reason why it takes some convincing to get consumers to invest their hard-earned money in music is because streaming and downloading platforms have diluted the monetary value of music. In some respects it is, unfortunately, up to them to make some of the first moves. But in the meantime, there are other ways you can support your favorite artists without depleting your own resources. The most popular solution as of now is Bandcamp Friday. Held on the first Friday of the month, the platform “waives [their] revenue shares” allowing musicians to make more profit.

At the end of the day, transparency is the key to not only awareness, but also change: a change that hopefully will be conceptualized in the coming years for the sake of the industry, and up-and-coming artists.

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