Let me step back. What do these partnerships mean for artists and actual workers within the industry if anything?
I’d say I think this is a good time to eye all the other means of establishing fan connections and finding revenue streams. Outside of the major label system, or within its most interesting parts, there are a number of ways to re-imagine music consumption outside of the mass streaming model. I wrote about this earlier in the year when I was envisioning different ways to interact with fans on Twitch. That’s why I love talking about Twitch
and even YouTube’s recent attempts to copy Twitch’s direct to artist monetary options. There is real momentum to envision music consumption outside of needing to win a rigged playlist lottery.
I often joke with people that Bandcamp is just a merchandise site that happens to sell MP3s. I never say that to dismiss the platform, which for full disclosure I’ve written for multiple times, but more to just show they aren’t building a generation of MP3 obsessed fans. No, they’re catering towards a category of fans who still or are learning to love owning part of their fandom. That the site offers a semi-column dedicated to merch
even speaks directly to that fact.
The streaming-first, always, and forever ecosystem is training consumers to decouple making real transactions with the artists they love. If every phone is bundled with a music streaming service, that’ll only increase the friction for a fan to pull out their credit card, if they’ve never paid a dime for music in their lives.
(I’ll admit here the reverse could easily be true and the amount of merch done by SoundCloud rappers would show that.)
(Second aside: Yes, I know Spotify sells vinyl/shirts/etc. but it takes you to a third party site and isn’t at all well integrated into the platform right now.)
I hold a similar view on SoundCloud to Bandcamp in being a platform that potentially offers something beyond an endless catalog that can be found across many services. The platform’s artist side ease of use and the fact an entire musical generation exists almost exclusively within its walls shows there is a large audience for off-the-beaten path music without it being 1950s Hawaiian rockabilly—love y’all Bandcamp. I didn’t love SoundCloud’s attempt to be Spotify (SoundCloud Go), but their refocus back on artist tools and more ways to engage with the community with mobile song comments is a nice sign. SoundCloud might not be tucked away into a phone or smart speakers but it can and would be probably be best served leaning into a place for music fans to ready to engage beyond a passive playlist.
Yet the real “winner” of this space aren’t even music platforms. Even though musicians like Amanda Palmer
were some of the earliest backers of Kickstarter, I’m still surprised more don’t venture over to Patreon or even Twitch. Instead of putting bench markers at a million Spotify monthly listeners there is a celebration at 2,000 paying Patreon subscribers. I wrote about this earlier in the year
and arrived a similar thought of scale for most artists not being a proper end goal and instead one should drill deeper into their own fans and community than assume they’ll win the scratch off mainstream success. Even those who hold that goal could also take hint from properly building up an audience that won’t simply fade after a few singles or two album cycles. This is why I also think of Twitch, not because its perfect, but because it opens up the ways to think about what is valuable and monetizable for a musicians beyond a final sound recording.
A world of further media consolidation is one that kills jobs and makes the already powerful, even more so, but it can offer an opportunity to re-approach much of this business. Instead of an artist stressing about album sales lost to streaming or praying a curator put them on a playlist, one can be refocusing their energy directly towards their fans. Every fans that is directly paying an artist five dollars a month might not help a label’s eventual catalog streams but does it does make paying rent much easier for up-and-coming artist.