Music streaming myths debunked

Between conferences, emails, blog comments, and just hanging out with musician friends, I hear a lot of independent artists’ opinions about music streaming — both plus and minus.

Some of these opinions are well-informed while others seem like they’re based on myths. So let’s debunk a few!

1. There’s no money in it

There IS real money to be made from music streaming. For instance, the Grammy-nominated act Tycho now earns 53% of their income from Spotify.

In the major label world though, most songs are written by teams of people. If the artist is lucky enough to be credited as a writer, they’re still often splitting those publishing royalties three, or six, or twelve ways. As for the royalties generated by the streaming of a sound recording, well, let’s just say the labels have done a fine job keeping much of that dough for themselves. So when you hear Megastar X saying they had 100,000,000 streams on Spotify and only made sandwich money, you know to take it with a grain of salt. That money is going SOMEWHERE.

For artists who own 100% of their publishing and sound recording rights, all their streaming revenue flows to them. No label advances, catalog licensing deals, or complicated splits to contend with. From there, if you’re savvy and/or lucky enough to get a song placed in a prominent playlist, your year is made. The success of a single song on a streaming platform also creates interest in other songs or albums in your catalog, driving more revenue.

This will continue to be the case more and more as streaming now accounts for over 50% of music revenue and has driven the industry’s highest growth in two decades.

2. It killed the album

Wrong. Streaming didn’t kill the album. Downloads did. As soon as Napster was a thing, people stopped needing to buy the whole record just to hear one song they liked.

If anything, I’d argue that streaming might actually HELP albums.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, streaming playlists are clearly the organizing principle of the moment for tracks, but the fact that there’s no additional charge besides the subscription fee means that listeners are free to explore an artist’s catalog as they choose.

In the download days, you probably weren’t going to pay $10 to take a chance on something you were only mildly curious about. Today you can listen to that album worry-free. If you like it, keep listening. If not, next!

3. I can window or withhold to drive physical sales or downloads

Taylor Swift can withhold. Adele can window. You — most likely — can’t.

Windowing is the act of releasing a certain piece of music to different platforms/formats at different times so you can direct fans to whichever outlet benefits you most. Again, that might work if you’re Adele. Her fans will go where she commands. But ask yourself: am I Adele?

If your music isn’t on Spotify (or maybe YouTube), I’m not going to hear it, period. I won’t download it. I don’t want to manage the files on my computer. And I don’t care if you mail me a CD for free; I’m probably not going to open it. My only CD player is in my car and that’s my NPR time.

So… don’t window and don’t withhold. Be everywhere, because your fans need you to meet them where THEY hang out. Not visa versa.

4. All streaming services are pretty much the same

This is an easy assumption to make. Find digital music file. Stream it.

But there are real differences between the platforms, and it fosters a different experience with each:

  • YouTube Red comes with the whole video component (and ad-free access to everything on YouTube).
  • Pandora Premium taps into Pandora Radio’s past and your listening habits, to provide a particular kind of custom song selection.
  • Apple Music is heavy into human curation, featuring their own playlists and their Beats 1 radio service.
  • Spotify is a data-heavy system that has thrived because it encourages users to create their own playlists, further instructing its own algorithm.

And on and on. To varying degrees, the streaming platforms are different from one another.

5. It’s only a matter of time before people realize they miss having the tangible, physical record or CD

Yes. I actually hear this. Ah, nostalgia.

If you grew up with vinyl or CDs, I get it — you miss them (or some aspect of them, at least). But most people who were born in the past two decade don’t miss them, don’t need them, and won’t demand their return.

MUSIC is what’s important. Not how big the paper sleeve, not how shiny the object it’s delivered on, and not how easy it is to touch. It’s music. It goes in your ears, to your brain.

Bonus myth: If we boycott streaming, everyone will have to go back to [insert format: downloads, CD, cassette, vinyl, wax cylinder, concert hall, folk dance,…]

To which I say: try it! Usually I’m all for organization and action. Boycotts can be very effective.

But here’s the thing, Ed Sheeran isn’t boycotting streaming services. Know why? Because he’s making a boatload of money from them.

So whoever does get together to remove their music from, say, Spotify — it’s just not going to make that big a difference, because your music isn’t as in-demand as Ed Sheeran or Drake. And then you’re just left out of the party, because your potential fans will be dancing to another artist’s jams.

Besides, this impulse usually comes from believing myth #1. Should rights holders continue to pressure streaming services (and Congress) for higher royalty rates? Absolutely. But let’s not pretend there’s no money to be made.

Did I forget any common music streaming myths? If so, let me know below. And let us know why it’s not true.