Music Industry

Published on April 9th, 2018 | by Alan Cross

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Could Spotify kill off jazz, classical and soul music? Stay with me on this.

There’s plenty of music that we don’t like right away. Opera, for example. Modern jazz is another. So is virtually any form of classical music. These genres are complex, sophisticated, come with rich histories and need to be viewed in very specialized contexts.

The only way you can learn to appreciate this music is to be guided by someone already versed in them. It’s also helpful if you’re exposed to this material repeatedly and unintentionally. After a period of time, the penny drops and something clicks in your head. “Oh, NOW I get it!”

But what about in the age of streaming? Services like Spotify and Apple Music aren’t exactly deep into those sorts of music and don’t seem to be interested in promoting it with any enthusiasm. Could this herald the end of jazz, classical and soul? Let’s take a look at this article from Soul Tracks.

 Two events happened in the past few weeks that caught my attention: Lil Pump, a 17 year old Miami rapper, signed an $8 million recording deal with Warner Bros. Around the same time, one of the leading modern soul singers in the US celebrated on social media the one millionth stream of her latest song on Spotify. Her financial haul on it? Likely around $3,000. Though these two stories appeared unrelated, they are instructive of the strange new world of music streaming payments, and the inherent bias against soul, jazz, classical and other genres of music aimed at adult listeners.

For four generations, recorded music has been an integral part of popular culture, and has also been a key piece of how musical artists make a living. And whether it was wax, vinyl, 8-Track, cassette, CD or mp3, there was always a direct financial connection between the artist and his or her listening fans. When I bought my copy of Thriller, I knew that some money from that purchase ultimately found its way to Michael Jackson. And when my Dad purchased a Frank Sinatra album, the same thing happened. The income of both artists was directly correlated to the money that their fans spent to listen to their music. And it didn’t matter if I listened to my Michael Jackson album more often than my Dad listened to the Sinatra disc. The fact is that we each made a financial commitment to our artist by buying the album, and our artist received a share of the purchase.

When music streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal came around (for purposes of this article, we’ll focus on Spotify, the industry leader), they turned the music industry on its head, changing how fans listened and paid for music, particularly with the idea of monthly “all you can eat” subscriptions. Those subscriptions are the main source of Spotify’s revenues, and Spotify then agrees to pay a percentage of those revenues to “rights holders” like artists and labels. And while there has been a lot of press about how streaming initially reduced the overall payments to record companies and artists (which has since turned around), what hasn’t been addressed as much is how streaming has changed which artists get paid. And, without a doubt, streaming has stacked the deck toward hip-hop, pop, and other genres whose listeners are teenagers and twenty-somethings.

Kids listen to more music than adults do, period. Research indicates it can be as much as five times as much. And it has been that way forever. But in the past, artist revenue was based on sales, not listens. So artists with adult audiences were rewarded when their fans paid money for their music, even if they actually listened to it less often. Music streaming, on the other hand, allocates payments based on the number of listens, or “streams,” of songs. And THAT changes everything, creating new winners and losers.

Keep reading. This could become a big issue sooner than later.

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About the Author

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.


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