This is a guest post by Jonas Woost, a digital music consultant specialized in helping music start-ups with Business Development and Content Licensing. Before moving to North America in April 2010, he was Head of Music with Last.fm for four years, based out of London, UK. Jonas has been working in the music industry all of his professional life. Jonas' perspective on streaming services is interesting since he's been on the side of those building them, with music fans in mind and with the often lukewarm collaboration of content owners. Today he looks at what it all means for those that create the music.
Music streaming services are a great way for fans to access, consume and discover music on the Internet. They also offer bands and labels great ways to get discovered, build a fan-base, and, for some, there is even some money to be made. Unfortunately there are many misunderstandings about the different services on the Internet and this post will (hopefully) clear up some of the questions that Bandzoogle members, and other DIY musicians and indie labels might have.
So, what exactly are “streaming services”?
The “ownership” of music has become less relevant over the last years. Many people (myself included) don't feel they need to own any CDs, vinyl records and mp3s if most music is available on the Internet to listen to. Ownership results in maintenance and responsibilities: we have to clean records and make sure they don't get damaged. We have to back up our mp3 collection and make sure we keep the format up to date (who knows if mp3 as a format will still be relevant in five years ?).
A great alternative to the above is using a music streaming service to access music. The files are stored “in the cloud” and we only access them through the Internet as opposed to owning them. Typically, you will not pay every time you listen to a track but you will pay a subscription fee, or there will be advertising that you will be exposed to in order to listen to the music for free.
What is important to understand (and this is where it gets tricky) is that there are basically two types of services: “radio” and “on-demand” streaming.
The “radio” option is borrowing its name from a technology it has little to do with, but it refers to the fact that it's more of a hands-off experience. A “radio” streaming service will play a music selection that you cannot directly decide. You might chose a genre or an artist you like and tracks will be streamed to you that are similar to what you have selected. It's a music discovery experience to help finding new music based on what you already like. The only influence on what you will hear is that you might be able to skip or rate what you are listening to (helps the service personalize your playlist) but you will not be able to decide exactly what is playing next. Streaming services like Pandora and Last.fm fall under category “radio”.
“On-demand” streaming is a more active music listening experience where the listener can directly decide on what they want to listen to. It feels and often looks like an online jukebox where you can listen to specific tracks, whole albums or build playlists. These kind of offerings can really replace a CD collection: if the service has all the music that you like there is no need to own the recordings any more. Spotify, Rdio, Rhapsody, and MOG are examples of an “on-demand” streaming service.
The reason why it's very important to understand the difference between those two types of services is that the licensing and royalties structure work very differently in each one. Without going in too much details, a “radio” service would only pay a fraction of the royalties an “on-demand” service is paying, due to the different type of music consumption in each service. Also, a “radio” service might pay the royalties to a collection society (such as SoundExchange in the US) and an “on-demand” service might pay steaming royalties directly to the artist or label. All this also depends on the country the service is operating in. And that explains why some services are not available in countries where agreements are not in place. Confusing, I know.
As an artist, how can my music get on one of the streaming services?
Just like traditional record shops, most streaming services don't deal with artists or smaller labels directly. This is because very small teams run those companies and they do not have the resources to deal with thousands of artists every day. There are some companies out there that might be able to help you get on some of the streaming services; ReverbNation, CD Baby, and Ditto Music are popular with DIY musicians, and companies like IODA, The Orchard and IRIS deal mainly with independent labels. Keep in mind that they might not be able to get you on all the different streaming services.
Is it really worth it that I add my music to those services?
There have been many discussions on the web about the amount of money that is paid out to artists by streaming services and those numbers seem to be low. But they aren't. Every one of the big streaming services (certainly the ones mentioned above) are paying out millions of dollars every year to the music industry. There are a lot of misleading articles out there (such as this one) that make it look like the money paid out is very small. But, I like to make the comparison between traditional FM radio stations and streaming services: the digital services pay out much more to artists and labels per listener than the FM equivalents - and in the U.S. the FM stations are not paying anything to the artists (only to songwriters).
One thing I hear a lot is that music streams might cannibalize sales of music and therefore some artists are understandably hesitant to make their work available for streaming. I have not yet seen any hard evidence that anyone sells less music because fans were able to stream their music. In fact, music streaming is a great way to promote some of the products that cannot be digitally delivered through the Internet such as tickets to gigs, merchandise or limited edition premium CDs/LPs.
So should your music be available for streaming? I think every artist should make sure their music is available on the new services. Other than the fact that there is ultimately some money to be made, there is a much more important argument: your music has to be where the fans are so the “old” music industry don't even have the choice to fight this development and progress. The days where artists and labels can control the music and decide where fans will find and consume it are over. This might not always be advantageous for the musicians, from an artistic or financial point-of-view, but fighting this development is not only hugely frustrating but also a waste of time. Every musician is an entrepreneur, and part of that means you have to understand your market and be reactive to changes quickly.
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