I myself even wrote a piece in this vein for Slate, titled “Why Apple Music Is Starting to Win Spotify’s Game
”. Apple effectively shifted the narrative of them being beaten by Spotify into one of them leading the Swedish company in its biggest market, even if factually Spotify is still bigger than Apple Music within the United States. Articles might say this fact but the headlines don’t clarify this convenient misreading of information.
The effect of these stories is that these companies are pretty easily able to tell a story about the state of music streaming that isn’t untrue but messages the facts towards its liking. Look no further than Tidal’s ongoing battle over accusations of falsified streams to know that these companies aren’t keen on keeping the record correct if it presents a business concern. The larger effect is that it becomes harder to think of music streaming outside of these massive platforms. Instead of viewing this contemporary moment as an opening to completely re-frame how one would like to approach being a musician. The advice simply to play the playlist slot machine.
A recent Billboard
piece by veteran music business journalist Steve Koppell titled “How Spotify Is Scooping Up Indie Artists & Edging In on Label Territory
” highlighted the many tools open to musicians by the major music streaming platforms. Notably he didn’t mention platforms like Patreon, Kickstarter, Twitch, Discord, etc that can offer new ways of contextualizing how one can be a musician. Beyond sticking to the boilerplate streaming service approval tools the closing quotes shows how limited the worldview of contemporary music streaming is allowed to be:
Spotify and other top streaming services “are not protecting the status quo. They are saying, ‘Let’s protect the future,’” says Zack Gershen, partner with mTheory, which provides services for artist managers and works with Major Lazer
and twenty one pilots
. “It’s all part of their attempt to democratize the business and level the playing field.”
The “future” of music streaming isn’t fundamentally changing anything about the music industry instead it’s reaffirming the vapid idea that equal competition can fix larger structural issues. The end result of entirely unchecked public relations statements is that someone within the music industry can effectively restate a Daniel Ek talking point. The realm of possibility is limited and even a past where musicians were successfully unionized and not pushed to fight towards the bottom is entirely forgotten. Public relations and non-news news items aren’t solely to blame, but they confine any challanges these assumptions.
I’ll close with this tweet, and subsequent follow-up tweets, from the band Screaming Females that I think touches on this increasingly harder to ignore tension.