Canadian-born folk rock icon Neil Young recently decided to remove his music from streaming services like Pandora & Spotify, joining other major artists like Prince, Tool, Bob Seger and Taylor Swift. Members of this amorphous group have either parted ways with streaming services, or have out-right refused to allow their music to touch the digital realm. For Young, the issue simply rests with the compressed quality of music that streaming services deliver. Taylor Swift claims her departure from Spotify was about standing up for “the superfan” and making a statement on the current status of the music industry. However, she has recently reached an agreement with Apple to stream her latest album on their service. Of course, when you’re an established artist with a cadre of lawyers and a back catalogue that pre-dates streaming music, it’s easier to take a stance against “the powers that be” for a noble cause. But chivalry aside, what about the money made from streaming services?
The Rethink Music initiative at the Berklee College of Music’s Institute of Creative Entrepreneurship recently released a study examining the business practices of the music industry. Business World Online examined the Rethink study finding that the flow of money, which begins with a streaming service and ends at the artist, can often involve a convoluted web of licensing agreements and third-party side deals. Major artists have vast resources and industry leverage to help navigate multilayered and confusing agreements. Smaller artists simply don’t have the resources or influence. Artists such as Taylor Swift can sign lucrative exclusive deals with specific streaming services or, in the case of a band like Tool, can afford to forego digital releases all together in favor of vinyl.
On the other side of the album you have smaller independent artists who draw a certain amount of cache and exposure from streaming entities. These artists are willing to accept the small penance generated by streaming services in order to garner attention for live shows and merch sales. The perception also exists that smaller artists are facing the same challenges they faced in a pre-streaming era: major corporations consolidating their power, money, and influence to divert money from the artist. In many ways, it’s the same old song, just compressed to fit the new digital era.
Depending on which side of the digital divide an artist camps relies on their core philosophy regarding digital music. And for folks like Neil Young, the philosophy is quite clear: “streaming sucks“.