Music streaming helps up-and-coming artists


Graphic by Miranda Li.

The era of spending $1.29 on songs on iTunes is long gone. Free-streaming music services are taking over today’s music industry and introducing more accessible and contemporary media for music discovery. These services, such as Spotify, Pandora, YouTube and Google Play, have changed how music is discovered by allowing consumers to stream music for monthly payments or no money at all.

Many mainstream artists are losing the control they previously had over music distribution, and the toll that streaming services has on artists’ sales is a harsh reality. Take singer-songwriter Taylor Swift, a nationwide sensation with a net worth of $200 million. In November 2014, Swift revoked her music from Spotify, which she believes is a low-royalty streaming service.

“In my opinion, the value of an album is, and will continue to be, based on the amount of heart and soul an artist has bled into a body of work, and the financial value that artists (and their labels) place on their music when it goes out into the marketplace,” Swift said to Time Magazine. “Piracy, file sharing and streaming have shrunk the numbers of paid album sales drastically, and every artist has handled this blow differently… Valuable things should be paid for. It’s my opinion that music should not be free.”

According to Spotify, artists earn only around $0.006 and $0.0084 per stream.
Following Swift’s widely publicized stand against free music streaming, rock duo Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney, or The Black Keys, pulled their most recent album “Turn Blue,” from Spotify.

“My whole thing about music is: if somebody’s making money then the artist should be getting a fair cut of it,” Carney said to Billboard. “The owner of Spotify is worth something like 3 billion dollars, and he’s richer than Paul McCartney, and he’s 30, and he’s never written a song.”

Despite this negative impact on established artists, there is true value in streaming services, as they give exposure to up-and-coming artists. Founded in August 2007 by Alexander Ljung and Eric Wahlforss, SoundCloud is a free music-streaming service and a music-discovery platform. The website has grown so popular, with around 250 million active users, that 12 hours worth of new music is added to the server every minute. SoundCloud allows artists working toward a musical careers to create and upload their music on an audio distribution platform where they can gain a reputation by sharing music instantly.

“Reposting, commenting on portions of tracks, etc. [are] great, easy features that make SoundCloud a natural tool to use,” Leslie Horn wrote in an Gizmodo article regarding SoundCloud’s impact on the music industry. “But there was another word that consistently popped up in conversations I had about SoundCloud: embeddability. SoundCloud embeds on Twitter, Facebook, this website, any website, and anywhere else really. Click on your favorite music blog, or any blog for that matter. SoundCloud is everywhere.”

Each SoundCloud account allows users to upload two hours of their own music for free, four hours for $55 a year and unlimited uploading for $135 year. The average duration of an album is 40 minutes, so two free hours of content is equivalent to about three albums, enough to get a person’s name into the public consciousness without any added cost for the artist.

“The way you can interact, became important that it could be part of the fabric of the web everywhere,” Wahlforss said to Gizmodo. “You have a great degree of control as a creator of what you publish and how you publish it, and you can… spread it around in a way that enables virality.”

One of SoundCloud’s most recognized artists is New Jersey-born rapper Willie Maxwell, or Fetty Wap, who is best known for “Trap Queen,” the song that brought him ultimate fame and success. “Trap Queen” was uploaded onto SoundCloud in March 2014, where it reached one million hits within weeks of its release. With tracks “Trap Queen,” “My Way” and “679,” Fetty Wap became the first male rapper with three songs listed within the top 20 spots on the Billboard Hot 100 since Eminem in 2013.

Today’s generation thrives on art, especially music. Music is found everywhere, and artists will continue to promote the value and importance of music by creating it themselves. The only difference will lie in the manners in which that music will be shared with the audiences.

This evolution in the music industry has played a successful role in allowing rising artists to share their creations in exchange for career doing something they love. Distribution platforms such as SoundCloud have changed the way talented musicians are discovered, and now, more and more extraordinary people have the chance to express themselves freely to the public, and that is crucial for the future of the music industry.