Tuesday, May 13, 2014

To Stream or Not To Stream - That is the question

After and very long absence I am back with this controversial topic

Controversial? some might say!!

Well, for the artists, musicians, composers, sound recording owners and music publishers it is a controversial issue but one that doesn’t seem will go away.

For those of you who don’t know, Music Streaming services such as Spotify, Qobuz and Deezer have taken over the world making available practically every music recording to anybody in a vast spectrum of countries, either for free or for a subscription basis, which differs depending on the service’s business model and its terms and conditions.

The free subscriptions are basically invaded with advertising every 3 or 4 songs and are basically made that way to allure you into getting into a paid subscription. The advertisings are quite annoying and you can’t simply fast forward to your next chosen song, so you have to wait until the advertising is over to continue to listen to the music you’ve chosen.

Services go something like this:

Spotify: On mobile or tablets, you can always listen to artists, albums, created or ready-made playlists for free but always in shuffle mode. If you want to play any song or album in any order as you wish, any time, just upgrade to the Spotify Premium: Web access only without the ads and no commitment, for $4.99/month or Web/Mobile access without the ads and no commitment, for $9.99/month and you can play any song, anywhere. You also have the option of downloading music for fees such as those of iTunes, etc. & you’ll also be able to listen offline.

Deezer: Three subscription modes are available, Discovery: Web access only with ads, this is free. Premium: Web access only without the ads and no commitment, for $4.99/month; Premium+: Web/Mobile access without the ads and no commitment, for $9.99/month.

Qobuz: The world's first high-definition music streaming service based in France and only available in France, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, The United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Their subscriptions are: Premium 1: Web access only to music on MP3 (320 kbps resolution guaranteed) without the ads and no commitment, for $4.99/month; Premium 2: Web/mobile access to music on MP3 (320 kbps resolution guaranteed) without the ads and no commitment, for $9.99/month; Qobuz Hi-Fi: Web/mobile access to music on True CD Quality (FLAC 16 bit/44.1 kHz resolution guaranteed) without the ads and no commitment, for $19.99/month (Also available with listening limited to classical music for $14.99/month). One feature which separates Qobuz from other services is the option of downloading music at high resolutions. There are two levels of high quality audio available: Lossless, the uncompressed "True CD Quality" at 16-bit, as well as 24-bit Studio Masters range, boasting the actual quality of the files you purchase. Even thou Qobuz service is only available in the countries mentioned above, you can get them to change your account so you can purchase from other countries by emailing customer support in English or customer support in French. I guess this will bring foreign fees charged to your credit card, but Qobuz does have quite a larger selection of HD Tracks for sale (24 bits / 192 kHz on 12000 plus albums called “Qobuz Studio Masters”) making it very attractive for the Hi-Fi aficionado.

There are other services and business mdels as well, but I just wanted to give you an overall picture.

Now, you might say that this is “awesome”, to be able to listen to any music, any time, create your own playlists, etc. and it is wonderful indeed, but it comes at a price not to the consumer but to the artists, musicians, composers, sound recording owners and music publishers making this a controversial issue among music industry professionals.

And this is why:

One download sold at $0.99 purchased from any store, such as iTunes brings approximately the following revenue for the creators involved:
Store: $0.29; digital distributor: $0.10; sound recording owner: $0.60 and for example in the US the sound recording owner must pay the owner of the composition a fee of $0.091 before they pay the artist, so that leaves roughly $0.50 to be shared between the sound recording owner (Record companies, most of the time) and a percentage paid to the artist based on their contractual percentages. In other countries the author/composer/publisher share gets discounted by the store and paid to the pertaining performance rights society.

One listen at a streaming site, let’s say Spotify in the US, brings approximately US$ 0.007219 for the digital distributor, so approximately $ 0.006136 to the sound recording owner who for example in the US will have to pay 10.50% of that to the owner of the composition, leaving $0.00549172 to be shared with the artist.

So as you can see you would have to sell approximately 92 streams to reach the price of simply one download.

Of course, you cannot compare the two in the sense.  A stream is like a personal radio where you choose what song to listen to and you don’t own anything and the download you actually own but this gives you an idea as to why this is a controversial issue in spite of the fact that record companies and artists alike have embraced the streaming revolution as a media which is here to stay. But the issue is that a lot of people feel compelled to just stream and not buy.

It is a fact that sales have suffered a great deal and many artists and small independent labels find themselves struggling to survive as these revenue streams make it very difficult to recoup the investments needed to produce and market an album.

Some artists, such as Peter Gabriel or record labels such as ECM Records and many others have even blocked their recordings from being offered through streaming services, meaning that if you want their music, you should buy it. Others have decided beforehand that they will make their money on the shows so they use streaming as a mean to get fans to enjoy their music and then go to their shows. Some of the streaming services even alert you as to when your favorite artist will be in town. Other artists simply say that their streaming revenue surpasses the one form downloading, which is actually understandable as the revenue from sales of downloads has decreased dramatically due to people turning to streaming.

But as a consumer, the experience is often different than the one described above. Consumers find quite a few advantages from these services. First of all you are your own radio station; you decide what you want to listen. Some of the cons include the ability to be able to have almost all the music in the world available at your fingertip, the ability to create playlists with your favorite artists or with the albums or songs you would have never bought. For example, you like the Rolling Stones, but you never bought any of their albums because you had other preferences. Well by using these services you can actually create your own personalized Rolling Stones playlist and you would actually find yourself listening to it more often than not. Perhaps it is a list of 80s recordings, the sky is the limit. Some listeners, specially 40 and older are using these streaming services to fulfil their dreams of having their record collection completed with every release from the artist they love or like. And this is especially true since you can create a playlist with as many albums as you like but you also can delete the songs you dislike from each album on the playlist, and they stay deleted; a powerful tool indeed.

And then there is the discovery process. You will find yourself jumping from one related artist to another and soon enough you will have discovered a great deal of new music, meaning new for you as some of the discovery can take you to groups or songs from earlier years, which you never heard before. Or what about rediscovering that great song you always liked but never knew who performed until now that you find it through the related artist tool.

This brings me to another point. If you discover something you really like, then you feel inclined to buy either the CD or the downloads, and perhaps this is one of the most positive aspects of the streaming revolution, if you like something you might then want to buy it so that you can listen to it at your own pace and through different media systems. I can tell you from my own experience that I have bought a great deal of CDs and album downloads, just because I discovered them through my streaming subscription service.

And party music has never been as exciting. The playlists from people’s iPods or telephones have been replaced by the search engines on the party host’s computer streaming service or the playlists created beforehand by the host on his/hers subscription service. Music has indeed become global.

Another advantage of the streaming revolution is that it seems illegal music sharing and downloading has decreased as people can now simply send a URL corresponding to a created or existing playlist and their friends can then open it on their computers using their own subscriptions, or they can share their playlists in any social media making the discovery and sharing process legal and compelling. Some people find it easier to simply have the music on their subscription service available at all times and on any media than actually going on those annoying file sharing searching for something, which readily available on the streaming service, and downloading it with the risk of infecting their computer with a virus.

This brings me to my point concerning this blog.

From now on and when I start posting again, I will list most of my future posts using Spotify playlists (unless it is something, which is not available). That way you can join the revenue stream so needed to keep music, artists and composers alive so that we can continue to enjoy music as we’ve know it.

Streaming is here to stay and even if I resisted in the beginning, I have succumbed to the streaming revolution but please remember:

If you love the music please buy it!!

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