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Smackdown: Spotlight on Streaming

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The arrival of the new digital music service Spotify in the U.S. has been heralded as a low-cost way to expose lots of listeners to new music. But what do the artists behind the music get out of it? First, we're joined by Billboard writer Glenn Peoples to take a look at what streaming services like Spotify actually put into artists’ pockets. Then, the smacking down can begin - Time Out New York editor Steve Smith and musician Ben Allison debate whether these services are truly worth it in the end for musicians.

Listeners: What do you think? Are music streaming services a boon for artists? Or the bane of their existence? Weigh in below!


Ben Allison, Glenn Peoples and Steve Smith

Comments [19]

Lonnie from Brooklyn!!!

@ ashish raval

Tape Sharing is Not analogous to what happens now.

I Remember Tapes from Friends. The FIRST copy of Genesis' DUKE made from an Audiophile's Stereo system via a Nakamichi on Metal TDK. . .that was Heaven. And Mind you-- the Audiophile WON'T make copies for EVERYONE who asks.

The Next copy from someone else's High End Sony to a Panasonic with a $3 tape cassette. . .now it got muddy.

By the time you are getting a Third Gen copy via someone's double cassette boombox, you had something that sounded like molasses and an Honest Music Lover would just throw up their hands and go BUY the Album for themselves. Tapes were shared, yes, but analog degradation made it inevitable that the fourth or fifth person would just buy the Music for themselves.

But when Music is just a file. Each Copy is Perfect. Every Time. And everyone who copies thinks that someone ELSE who pay the Artist something, sometime, somewhere.

Jul. 19 2011 10:23 PM
Lonnie from Brooklyn!!!

I listened with interest from an artist's POV. When this situation is discussed, we often hear from a segment who proclaim that the 'Musician should just Go on Show Tours', as if that solves the problem.

Then I remembered one CD I have-- Pink Floyd's 'Division Bell'. Something like that could ONLY be produced in a studio- home or professional. There is no 'Live' rendition that would do it justice. And if I had heard it live, I would have tossed it as audio-trash. Sometimes an Artist needs to be PAID so they can spend time creating that HIT song cycle we can't even imagine yet. But if he's forced to click fractional pennies together and live off the 'blogged' good-will of Fans who never BUY anything unless they can get it for a few pennies. . .we may be at the beginning of a creative desert of our own making.

Music today may be just Data-- But Data is NOT Music.

Jul. 19 2011 10:04 PM
Dave Soldier from New York City

Wow, it's even worse than we think. I just checked the income from our little independent label (Mulatta), which we can do electronically. On April 15, for example, we had three plays on Spotify, a Kropotkins tune (Parchman Farm by Bukka White, 5 minutes), and two classical pieces I wrote, one (Duo Sonata) minutes long, the other (Sontag in Sarajevo) 12 minutes. The total payment was $0.0005 per piece played. That is, with 40 min of we (label, composers, musicians combined) are not even close to one penny. For purchase by ITunes it would have been $3, and by CDs, $16.

Jul. 19 2011 06:26 PM
ted in atlanta from a late-streamed edition

Ok, downloaded the show, and it's a great one! New idea for revenue stream for the artists: Sandwich boards saying "Homeless ex-musician, can ya spare a dime?" (or just play my song 50 times)

But seriously, I think the need for parsing of titles is relevant here. as little as it helps, at least a "performing artist" and support staffing and careers is still somewhat viable for half the conventional format of the music profession, but the "recording artist" and their employable counterparts are simply not sounding viable. i think someone must have taken pity and hired some of those guys to rig the stage at that cheap trick show.

Jul. 19 2011 06:22 PM
Dave from Seattle

Enjoyed the broadcast. First thing is, music consumers need a streaming model fast (Netflix made it available for video long ago), and it looks like Spotify will make the play that surpasses the clumsy Rhapsody. Musicians need a streaming model that pays them, and Spotify does that too. So the real question is: what is the right royalty amount per stream that will replace the income lost by artists selling downloads/CDs? Financial analysis makes for boring radio but we could have used some.

Jul. 19 2011 05:31 PM
Modern Shark from Brooklyn, NY

The people (and the internet) have decided that music is more or less free. As someone who runs a small indie label, I'm continually shocked to find that people actually still purchase music.

As music became digital, it became more disposable, since a file is the most disposable format in the history of recorded music.

If you want to fight the disposability of music, do something different. What we do at Modern Shark is create limited-edition custom physical releases that YOU CAN'T DOWNLOAD. Cool objects that you can own, that also happen to have the music on them. Have a look-see:


Jul. 19 2011 02:49 PM
Jim from NYC

I have absolutely no question that this will make the average recording musican's financial plight even worse. Recorded music is information and the trend for 50 years has been for information to be cheaper and more accessible.

This goes along with the increasing globalization/feudalization of work where the value producer receives less and less and the distributor gets most of the value.

I was a working studio musician in the 80's and helped put myself out of business by promoting sampling devices (notably the Synclavier).

Possible ways out are if musicians own the distribution channels(has been rarely done and with limited success) or if the musicians are compelling enough that they can subsist mostly on revenue from performances.

Jul. 19 2011 02:39 PM
Kris from Brooklyn

Gillian Welch's 'Everything is Free' is a really great musical meditation on an artist's perspective on the very topic..

Just be sure not to illegally download it to hear it..

Jul. 19 2011 02:39 PM
Phil from Park Slope

Seems like the problem is that the pricing is negotiated as a blanket agreement by people who do not share the artists' interests. Maybe it would be better to let artists set the price of their work, and then allow consumers to take it or leave it?

Jul. 19 2011 02:38 PM
Guido from Jersey City

I agree, fundamentally, with both speakers. However, like people listening to records could never imagine owning hundreds of discs, or disc owners couldn't imagine mp3s, I think the key is to evolve. The industry has suffered by not evolving, and as someone who has, admittedly, pirated and bought mp3s in equal amounts, something like Spotify brings me back into the industry and I will consume by paying subscriptions and buying files I want. If the industry doesn't evolve with the digital and now cloud eras, it will fall behind, that's just the way it works.

Jul. 19 2011 02:36 PM
Leanne from NYC

what's the big deal about Spotify? I just joined and I'm not digging it.

Jul. 19 2011 02:35 PM
ashish raval

musicians should go after the big boys , like record companies, who really rip off musicians instead of fans . also in the age of tapes people shared regularly [& legally] without hurting the musicians themselves

Jul. 19 2011 02:34 PM
adam from NJ

consumers want access not ownership. ultimately there is no substitute for live music and musicians will have to adapt to going back to life on the road. Record labels have been pinching the pennies away for years and years- the spotify transition actually gives power back to the bands by letting them have the best distribution stream for no cost (no more advances or "loans" from the label)

Jul. 19 2011 02:33 PM
jim macnie from BK

what does ben's record label think? and is he considering removing his records from Spot, Rhap etc.

Jul. 19 2011 02:31 PM
ted in atlanta

interestingly i would love to be listening - but my WNYC streaming - (through iTunes) does not seem to be working... it's been getting worse over the last few months and not sure if it's our side or yours. oh well.

Jul. 19 2011 02:29 PM
Phil from Park Slope

Radio generates revenue from selling advertising, not playing music. Records and CDs were about selling a tangible product that facilitated listening. It seems more and more absurd to pay for a local copy of some data when it can just as easily be accessed from the cloud--music, films, tv, books, etc.

Services like Spotify seem to open the door for pricing IP directly based on the actual supply and actual demand for it. Perhaps pricing should be based on popularity, like stocks.

What the price implications of that are might not be encouraging for artists, but it has to be better than the alternative of all music being free via file-sharing.

As a content creator, I think a head-in-the-sand attitude about technology isn't going to be productive, although I don't know what the solution is.

Jul. 19 2011 02:28 PM
Laura from Brooklyn, NY

The same way magazines and newspapers have to look for new ways to get revenue, so do musicians. I think the new stream of revenue is going to come from concerts, appearances, and performances, not cd sales...!! Thinking you can make money from just buying songs is a stubborn viewpoint!!! time to look forward to bigger and better things...

Jul. 19 2011 02:28 PM
nick (musician/bandleader) from NYC


Recording studios cost $50 (or more) per hour. If a stream pays .01, you need to sell 5000 streams to pay for 1 hour of recording time.

If you get 5000 downloads from itunes (Very very difficult these days), at around 70 cents each for the independent artist, thats $3500, still much less than the cost of recording a CD.

The answer is of course "DIY" recordings.

I for one, have NO PLANS to pay for a recording studio anytime soon.

Jul. 19 2011 02:21 PM
jim macnie from BK

i kind of liked that spin on "If Not For You."

Jul. 19 2011 02:17 PM

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