Artists turn­ing their backs on le­gal stream­ing is short-sighted

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

GRAM­MYS, BRITS, yada yada – it’s the wretched mu­sic in­dus­try award sea­son and it’s all happy-clappy as cham­pagne is un­corked, Je­sus is thanked and ev­ery­one loves ev­ery­thing and ev­ery­body. The equiv­a­lent of a bikini-clad model drap­ing her­self over a car, the mu­sic award sea­son is a tawdry pro­mo­tional de­vice to shift more units. No one re­ally knows who votes for what or why, or which awards have been carved up in ad­vance.

And all those right­eous and hyp­o­crit­i­cal speeches about “sav­ing the mu­sic in­dus­try” and “fight­ing back” must be scru­ti­nised given what has now be­come public knowl­edge about how cer­tain la­bels and cer­tain big-name acts are now be­hav­ing to­wards the le­gal stream­ing ser­vices.

If you came in late on this one, the con­sen­sus reached a while back was that these stream­ing ser­vices such as Spo­tify were the per­fect an­ti­dote to those pesky il­le­gal down­load­ers who were threat­en­ing the very fu­ture of the in­dus­try.

By nudg­ing peo­ple to­wards ei­ther a free but ad-spon­sored ser­vice or a pre­mium rate stream­ing ser­vice, the log­i­cal ar­gu­ment was that peo­ple would be­come ac­cus­tomed to valu­ing mu­sic again. The money be­ing charged even for the most ex­pen­sive stream­ing ser­vice isn’t that much (rel­a­tively speak­ing), but the cru­cial as­pect here is that ev­ery­one is on board, from the la­bels to the artists to the pub­lish­ers.

Agreed, the idea of “ac­cess­ing” mu­sic as op­posed to buy­ing or down­load­ing it was go­ing to take time to bed in, and these ser­vices did need time to grow. And yes, they pay rub­bish roy­al­ties at the mo­ment, but that’s be­cause not enough peo­ple are aware of them or con­vinced of their mer­its.

But while cer­tain ter­ri­to­ries can now boast that the rev­enue taken in by stream­ing ser­vices is help­ing to plug the hole left by il­le­gal down­load­ers, we have just wit­nessed a baf­flingly stupid decision by some big names to re­move their mu­sic from stream­ing ser­vices.

Into this week’s hall of shame go Adele, Cold­play, The Black Keys and Paul Mccart­ney and their re­spec­tive record­ing la­bels. All four of these acts have pulled some or all of their work from the stream­ing ser­vices, and the rea­son given is that stream­ing their work only “can­ni­balises” their phys­i­cal/ dig­i­tal sales.

When Cold­play re­leased their mega-sell­ing Mylo Xy­loto last Oc­to­ber, it wasn’t made avail­able on Spo­tify, thus forc­ing their fans into buy­ing and own­ing the full al­bum. The think­ing, one sus­pects, is that since you’ve got a large fan base, make them pay full price for the al­bum in­stead of let­ting them stream it ei­ther for free or as part of their monthly sub­scrip­tion. Hardly “free trade” is it guys?

The Black Keys, so beloved of the in­dier­atti, pulled their cur­rent al­bum off be­cause, as their drum­mer said at the time, “Stream­ing ser­vices are more pop­u­lar, but it still isn’t at a point where you’re able to re­place roy­al­ties from record sales with the roy­al­ties from streams”.

So there you have it — it’s about money, not the prin­ci­ple of fully sup­port­ing and en­dors­ing le­gal stream­ing ser­vices. And I wouldn’t re­ally call The Black Keys a “strug­gling band”. As for Adele and her man­age­ment/la­bel, shame on them for pulling 21 from Spo­tify on its re­lease.

Last week Mccart­ney be­came the lat­est re­fusenik by pulling most of his work off the stream­ing ser­vices. The more cyn­i­cal among us noted that this came in the same week as he was pre­par­ing to stream a con­cert on itunes, and one won­ders if the Ap­ple tie-in was re­lated to the decision.

Yes, stream­ing ser­vices cur­rently pay a lousy re­turn to artists and la­bels. They’re start-up com­pa­nies – the more peo­ple who join, the greater the re­wards will be. Those of us who’ve been scream­ing at the il­le­gal down­load­ers to get with the le­gal stream­ing pro­gramme feel very short-changed by the ac­tions of Adele, Cold­play, Black Keys and Mccart­ney.

If the mu­sic in­dus­try is in a mess it’s be­cause it de­serves to be. The short-sighted greed of these artists is un­der­min­ing all the ar­gu­ments for a sub­scrip­tion econ­omy model of mu­sic, in which ev­ery­one will be re­warded fairly – once a crit­i­cal mass is reached. This is no bet­ter than cheating.

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