S&V’S new col­umn all about mu­sic stream­ing.

The num­bers don’t lie: It’s high time for au­dio­philes to get on­board the stream train

Sound & Vision - - CONTENTS - BY MIKE MET­TLER THE AU­THOR Mike Met­tler, a.k.a. The Sound­bard, is the mu­sic edi­tor of Sound & Vi­sion.

Has stream­ing saved the mu­sic in­dus­try? De­pends on whom you ask. If we’re to be­lieve cer­tain vo­cal fac­tions within the mu­sic busi­ness, we’re al­ready of­fi­cially en­trenched in the “end of own­ing mu­sic” era. As re­ported in the mid-june edi­tion of Rolling Stone, sales of CDS peaked at 712 mil­lion discs in 2001, while they plum­meted to a record low 88.6 mil­lion in 2017—and that fig­ure is only go­ing to con­tinue to drop. In fact, CD sales have plunged an alarm­ing 80 per­cent in the past decade alone. And as you’ve prob­a­bly seen— or even in­ad­ver­tently ex­pe­ri­enced at, say, a car deal­er­ship while look­ing at new ve­hi­cles—a num­ber of man­u­fac­tur­ers like Ford, Toy­ota, and Tesla don’t even of­fer CD play­ers as op­tions any­more.

Vinyl sales have gone the other way, how­ever, uptick­ing from a mere 990,000 pieces in 2007 to 14.3 mil­lion in 2017— with, nat­u­rally, the 50th an­niver­sary 180-gram reis­sue of The Bea­tles’ Sgt. Pep­per’s Lonely Hearts Club Band be­ing the year’s big­gest seller on wax. That’s no real sur­prise to a mu­sic-lov­ing com­mu­nity such as ours that con­tin­ues to em­brace own­ing, col­lect­ing, and crit­i­cally lis­ten­ing to phys­i­cal prod­ucts— namely, higher-grade LP reis­sues and

box sets and Blu-ray and DVD re­leases that feature hi-res op­tions and sur­round sound con­tent. Sorry if I turned into Cap­tain Ob­vi­ous there for a mo­ment, but still. . .

That said, we do have to rec­on­cile just how we can con­sume dig­i­tal mu­sic at the qual­ity we rightly de­mand. Hard num­bers con­tinue to tell the tale. For ex­am­ple, down­load­ing has also gone the route of, well, go­ing down. The num­ber of track down­loads be­tween 2011–13 av­er­aged 1.3 bil­lion, but that num­ber shrunk con­sid­er­ably to just 555 mil­lion in 2017, fol­low­ing the pat­tern of a con­tin­ual 5-year de­cline. And stream­ing? Well, stream­ing is the word. It’s the time, the place, the mo­tion, and the way we are feel­ing. To wit: In 2013, song streams were at 118.1 bil­lion, and then that num­ber leapfrogged to a stag­ger­ing 618 bil­lion in 2017.

But does stream­ing also have the groove and the mean­ing? Let me cite a few more stats for the num­ber­scrunch­ers among us be­fore I an­swer that semi-rhetor­i­cal thought. In a post on the S&V site back in early June, we re­ported the lat­est re­search from Dal­las-based Parks As­so­ciates re­vealed al­most 40 per­cent of in­ter­net-con­nected U.S. house­holds now have a stream­ing me­dia player. In com­par­i­son, only 6 per­cent of house­holds were stream­ing via a me­dia player in 2010. Most of this is re­lated to folks want­ing video con­tent from the likes of Net­flix and Ama­zon, of course— but the de­sire runs deeper than that since, as noted ear­lier, we au­dio­philes must take a hard look at the qual­ity level of both the mu­sic be­ing made avail­able and the re­lated stream­ing play­back sys­tem/de­vice at hand if we’re to em­brace this seem­ingly un­stop­pable mu­sic lis­ten­ing force.

How do the artists mak­ing the mu­sic we stream feel? Just about ev­ery day, I speak with mu­si­cians, artists, pro­duc­ers, and en­gi­neers who have op­pos­ing views on stream­ing, and it’s crys­tal-clear no one is tak­ing any kind of neu­tral, Switzer­land-like stance. Some artists take the “greater good” ap­proach, feel­ing that stream­ing is akin to a mil­len­nial mor­ph­ing of the func­tion of ra­dio, wherein their mu­sic is made avail­able at a low or even no en­try fee in the hopes of gar­ner­ing new fans who will ul­ti­mately pay for con­cert tick­ets or some kind of phys­i­cal prod­uct some­where down the line. Oth­ers, how­ever, re­main in­censed over the lack of cents on the dol­lar paradigm— i.e., the mod­ern “art vs. com­merce” ar­gu­ment equiv­a­lent.

One up-and-com­ing 19-year-old vo­cal­ist/gui­tarist I re­cently spoke with, Judge Page of Bro­ken Tes­ti­mony, told me, “I get that ev­ery­one nowa­days is on so­cial me­dia and are stream­ing their mu­sic, but to me, the best mu­sic came from the times where you got it on records and CDS. Ev­ery­thing just sounds bet­ter than it would on a stream­ing site. I just want to play my mu­sic in front of peo­ple, and I’ll give it away to them first; I don’t care.”

In com­par­i­son, when I in­ter­viewed Midge Ure, solo artist and singer/gui­tarist of Ul­travox, he ob­served, “I’m sus­pi­cious of stream­ing— sus­pi­cious of the qual­ity, sus­pi­cious of the pay­ment struc­ture. No, I don’t re­ally like it, to be hon­est with you.”

Thing is, with all for­mat shifts, there will al­ways be re­sis­tance to change, es­pe­cially within the au­dio­phile com­mu­nity. But if there’s one thing we will come around to, it’s the equal mar­riage of con­ve­nience and qual­ity. Of late, the stream­ing uni­verse has been mak­ing great strides in pro­vid­ing higher-qual­ity lis­ten­ing ex­pe­ri­ences, so the an­swer is sim­ple: adapt or die.

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