Going to physical stores to buy records, cassettes or even CDs is something younger generations cannot phantom to be normal and is spoken about in a nostalgic tone by older generations. The music industry has changed the format of music many times during the last century and in rapid succession. The CD, or compact disc, was introduced worldwide in 1983, quickly followed by the MP3 player in 1999. The popularity of the MP3 player, however, was short-lived, for in 2004 it became possible to play MP3 files from your mobile phone.
In 2006 Spotify was founded. The company introduced a new way of listening to music with the help of streaming. This technology made it possible to listen to the music of your choice via an internet connection. In 2010, Spotify became available in the Netherlands and since then has changed the way we consume music as well as the music industry in itself. This is how Spotify revolutionised the way we listen to music and the implications for the music industry as a whole, including its artists.
Advantages of Spotify
Firstly, it has become easier to discover new music. Spotify even generates playlists that suggest new music based on your already-existing library. Furthermore, it offers the option of a ‘song radio’ which starts playing music relevant to the song you were just listening to. The platform aims for a personalised listening experience and has shown impressive results. In 2017, 30% of the overall listening was suggested by the app itself in some way or another.
Next to finding new artists and music, it also has become easier to switch between genres and mix them up. As the user, you have complete control over what you listen to. No need to buy a complete CD by the same artist and rely on your friends’ questionable recommendations. The days of belonging to one subculture are over, we like to listen to a variety of music and Spotify offers us this opportunity. It even goes as far as offering a ‘tastebreakers’ playlist that is generated specifically to take people out of their comfort zone and offering different genres. This interest in a wide variety becomes clear when asking people to tell about their favourite artists. The older generations grew up listening more selectively and are better able to answer the question. When asking young adults, they will answer more often that they do not know or do not have a favourite artist, indicating that they listen to a wider variety of genres and artists than was ever possible before.
This development, listening to a wider musical landscape, makes it possible for smaller and independent artists to grow and become more popular, without the help of a record company. Spotify makes it easier to reach an audience than selling physical copies or performing concerts. The curious music listener is more open to listening to the music of an artist that they don’t know yet and will listen to the music because they can only gain from it. There are no negative consequences on clicking on a song without knowing it, whilst buying a CD from an unknown band can be a risk and make you lose money. Spotify, therefore, has a low threshold and is very accessible for both users and artists.
The platform has completely personalised music consumption. They know what we are listening to at the moment and predict what we want to listen to next. Aspects such as daily mixes and the end of the year recap that comes in the form of Spotify ‘Wrapped’, have made us more conscious of our music consumption and our taste. And to be honest, who is not curious to see how many minutes you have listened to music, or how many new artists you have discovered this past year? The option to create your own playlists has made listening to music more personal and individual than it has been ever before, whilst still conserving the classic way of listening to music through albums and charts. Spotify has added an extra layer to the listening experience and offers the best of both worlds to its customer.
An advantage for the music industry that comes with the popularity of the streaming service, is that we are less likely to illegally acquire our music. After years where the music industry lost millions and millions of its income because of piracy, streaming has made it possible to take back the reigns and gain control. It has become so much easier to just stream music than take the time and effort to illegally download the music you like. Many of us are even willing to pay a monthly fee to get all the Premium advantages.
Artists in peril
However, whilst the introduction of Spotify has shown benefits for both listeners and the music industry as a whole, the artists are the ones who are more likely to face problems. Whilst the platform makes it easier for independent and small artists to gain more listeners, it simultaneously means that there is more competition within the industry. This causes artists to feel the need to stay trendy and relevant and puts lots of pressure on their shoulders. The pressure is visible within the music because it changes the way artists write and produce their songs. Because they get paid per listen, songs have become shorter and albums and EPs have become longer. Listening to twenty songs instead of ten brings in double the money. Intros of songs have also become shorter, because the music should grab and, more importantly, keep the attention of the listener to prevent them from skipping.
The conclusion is that Spotify has significantly changed the way we consume and discover music with the use of streaming technology. It has impacted our musical landscape and the way artists create music, but therefore also carries a big responsibility. The platform plays a major role in suggesting new music because it creates the personal and general playlists we tend to listen to. The company, therefore, has the responsibility to handle this influence carefully to prevent misuse. Transparency and working together with artists to discuss how they think the platform can be improved are key factors in the future success of both the company and the music industry as a whole. This because, while it may come as a surprise, the music industry made more than double the money at its peak, in times of the cassette tapes and CDs, than it does now.
By Isa Kraaijvanger