OLIGARCHS OF THE MUSIC STREAMING WARS

If there’s a recurring theme for America in 2016, it’s that oligarchs are having great success at being seen as a champion of the people. They never are, but hey, keep on lauding them for their savvy marketing in conversation because you read too much Chuck Klosterman and want to be known as the ‘nuanced thinker’ in your shitbox group of friends.

Oligarchs have been trying to be fun and relatable pals who enjoy grabbing brewskis at BDubs with us kids for a while. Essentially, that’s the point of pandering advertising: to make it seem as though Company X knows what Person Y is going through, which is why they’d be flat out dumb if they didn’t buy Product Z. Done well and in moderation, it’s a fine and necessary evil that pays for a lot of stuff we all adore. But now that these multi-million/billion dollar companies have caught wind to the vomit-inducing ‘Brand Culture’ sweeping the nation, while living within our most prized possessions in app and website form, they’ve gone further and further into the fiery fissure of contrived relatability to an embarrassing extent.

This is what makes the brunt of music-based arguments that have fans so petulant now. We’re all at the whim of a few megalomaniacs who control an industry that’s become more about the middle-man than the artist and listener. As shown through the multiple instances over the past year, fans weren’t even able to listen to their favorite artist’s newest material without their allegiance to the correct middle-man in the form of a streaming service.

Tidal and Apple Music are both attempting to convey the image as the ‘artist friendly’ streaming provider. This angle is super ironic for Apple, considering that they’re one of the main reasons why album sales are where they are now, but it’s working for them regardless. Each had multiple albums released exclusively on their platform by A-List talent at this point, and each album has been as relevant and conversation-monopolizing as intended. All this, though, and Spotify still towers over their subscriber tally combined without a single exclusive release of their own.

Although Apple seems to be gaining ground, Spotify is currently sitting atop the streaming throne completely unbothered despite being completely untethered to any artist whatsoever. While being the most senior service of the three by a considerable margin helps with this count, it can’t go unnoticed that Spotify is completely bypassing musicians as a selling point to their music service.

Spotify has elected to focus on user experience, along with the sheer concept of music quantity being at the user’s disposal. It’s made the user completely forget that although they are now paying for their music, a concept that was thought to be doomed just a few years ago, they are still fucking over the artists they are listening to.

A great argument can be made that listeners do not deserve to have a platform so beneficial to them. Whether it’s illegally recording bands for the sake of bootlegging or risking the death of their computer for a free illegal download of the new Metallica album, fans have a lengthy history not caring if their favorite artist goes poor. By enabling this behavior, Spotify comes off as the less affable, capitalist hungry brother of Napster with a better legal team and the foresight to keep the record labels happy. After all, they’re an oligarch in the making now.

For a brief moment in time, I was sure Spotify would be the one to bring an end to the last standing major record label. That although they were still giving an insane amount of the royalty percentages to them, those half-penny checks would eventually prove to be too paltry for survival, thus closing up shop on unfair royalty payouts, leading Spotify to create a fairer split percentage with the artists themselves. Maybe Spotify would even open a record label in order to facilitate this. But as the history of any business sector would show you, the oligarchs do not crumble, they simply converge.

Just a few days ago, leaders from the three major labels met with a score of the more modern music hosting platforms to discuss streamlining royalty identification. What it seems like, from reading this report, is that basically anyone who’s even thought about starting a business in the music industry was invited to this thing. CD Baby? Tunecore? These names mean nothing to me…yet. But I think that’s the point- getting independent labels under the belt of the bug guys will probably prove to be incredibly beneficial in the long run. 

But one small note about the article: there seems to have been no artists there, except for a cellist by the name of Zoe Keating, who I’m sure plays the cello wonderfully. I’m not sure if there were any artists present to be able to establish their own desires for how their music gets distributed and at who’s and what cost, but it just goes to show how little any particular artist fits into the equation.

And no fans were there either. Not even a token one for good luck. Because despite an oligarch’s vociferous huffing and puffing about how much they love the people, they probably couldn’t give less of a shit about you.

recon