I recently read an article where record label heads discussed the percentage of download codes that were actually redeemed by people who bought some of that modern vinyl that has no cachet with me. As of two years ago, the percentage of downloads that were redeemed by customers who had bought a vinyl record hovered in the very low two digits. The label heads were wondering out loud about how much longer any of them would be taking the costly effort to provide digital footage files of analog vinyl as a courtesy to their customers, who [let it be said] are paying through the nose for this vinyl. By my reckoning, at least. The files need to be hosted somewhere in a cloud server and that doesn’t come free.
This article, which was two years old, stated that no one was interested in downloads any more. The [poor] vinyl pressing is basically sold as costly visual memorabilia to a clientele that might have a Crosley player to their name. Ten years ago they could have bought one of the 40 million copies of Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” clogging up the dollar bins few, remaining record stores for no more than $5.00. Nothing available in those numbers is even remotely to be considered rare. Now that 180 g 2xLP 2011 re-issue of an album that was by no means rare is selling for nearly $50. They don’t want a download. Everyone is just streaming their music now for a low, low monthly bill. And this was from two years ago! The landscape today has moved so far down that precipice that I worry that music I have been reluctant to buy because it was download only will soon be extinct to purchase in the wild. How much longer will Amazon or Apple be willing to sell a download that’s a big effort to maintain online? Bandcamp [the preferred Monastic DL platform] I’m not too worried about, but it’s got me paranoid about being able to buy things which don’t fit in the indie Bandcamp business model.
While a seeming majority of casual music consumers are content to pay a monthly fee to listen to anything they are able to hear from a conglomerate that controls their music, if you are reading this page, you are probably not a “casual consumer of music.” The closest thing I came to streaming was the year in 2006 when my wife got me a ad-free year’s subscription to Pandora. Ad-free listening was a must as I stopped listening to advertising by 1980. Life is too short to ever hear/see an ad. Remember that little bon mot on your deathbed. It was a year when I listened to my station, seeded with one artist [Gina X Performance] that pointed the way to a few artists I did not know about but grew to like and buy. That was the upside.
The downside? I had to be sitting at my computer to hear the music. I was doing a lot of freelance at that time, so it gave me some reason to sit at the computer for hours at a time. But normally, when I am having computer time for relaxation, I am digitizing vinyl and denoising it, ruling out streaming Pandora at the same time. So you can see where that was not too viable for me. Most of my focused listening time was in the car. Once more ruling out streaming of any kind. Oh but what about the fill-in-the-blank app on your smartphone? Well, I don’t plan on having a smartphone ever. I don’t like phones and have little need of them. I really don’t like smartphone bills. [caveat: in the rural area where I live one has to drive “down the mountain” to get a common carrier signal] Unless Congress passes a mandatory smartphone bill with punishment of jail time looming for malcontents like me, it’s just never going to happen.
Back when I began collecting records, I was used to buying music that was on the fringes of the marketplace. The bands that I loved were rarely selling any serious numbers in the horrible US marketplace of the early 80s, but no matter if you liked Heaven 17 or Fleetwood Mac, we all basically consumed the music in much the same way. LP vs cassette was as far as any technological rift went. Today, the landscape is far more fractured, in keeping with the breakdown of mass popular culture into smaller pockets of microculture that allow for a tightly focused advertising dollar to be spent reaching exactly the correct demographic of ears and eyeballs. In 1980 the choices were LP or Cassette? Mass Market or Fringe? 38 year later and it’s a case of Streaming? Download? CD? LP? And lately, even Cassette? All but the biggest artists of all time [a.k.a Classic Rock] are the Mass Market and almost everything else is the Fringe. Like society itself, the middle ground is being hollowed out as it collapses, leaving only the very big, who take the vast majority of the pie, and the very small.
Next: …Capital Doesn’t Just Evaporate, Does It?
In the past five years I have brought maybe 5 new pieces of vinyl. (ABC LOL, LOLII and 2 Heaven 17 12″) and have not downloaded anything from them. In the case of LOL and LOL2 I already owned CDs, so why put a lower-res rip in mh computer when I already have a wav file rip?
Streaming is the devil, but I love Spotfiy and have to admit that for all my casual listening I go there first (and youtube if the remix/rare track is not on Spotify. – You know, “rare” tracks like “Sidekicks” album from Thompson Twins, somehow NOT ON US SPOTIFY!)
David Richards – You point out one of my gripes with Spotify/streaming. That you can’t hear the best of the Thompson Twins trio era albums for an unknown reason [having everything to do with lawyers, methinks].
It does make me wonder if this will go full circle just like vinyl did. I bet no-one predicted the unexpected and (for me) completely un-welcome resurgence of vinyl. But it is back with a vengeance. Cassettes are making a delightful return, as yummy as they are. Maybe CDs sales will revive too and then perhaps downloads will follow in 2030. But in that case, I wonder if MP3 will be replaced with a compressed yet full quality download format? I digress …
My main reason for typing is that streaming counts towards the charts. So, now you do not have to buy the song for it to chart – you just have to stream it. Don’t get me started on why watching the video on YouTube counts as streaming the song but it does. What this means is that artists now specifically do not want you to buy the song, they want you to stream the hell out of it. That counts for more chart points. Maybe that is why people don’t download anymore.
While leads me to my other bug bear. Arguably, when I listen to an album which I have bought and downloaded (for good example, ACTORS – It Will Come To You is “streaming” right now from my hard disk, through my Intel Core i5, out through a wire to my hi-fi amplifier and via my stereo speakers to my ears) but that listen does not count towards charting. Yet, it is streaming. Even if I have my MP3s saved in that cloud, it would not count as streaming. The chart companies need to take into account more user home plays that are not via a public network to understand just how much bought music is appreciated. And that way, vinyl buys without streaming will pretty much count for nothing.
After all, no one plays those 180g monsters anyway – they just gaze at them.
There is a bit of irony here in that I don’t think that all streaming platforms reimburse the artist in the same manner. I’ve followed some Facebook posts of Corin Dingley (Alpha – Comefromheaven is a must have for any music collection) and his reimbursement level from some of these sounds like it is virtually not worth it.
I suspect that the accountability of streaming is really for people who are already having the hit mainstream records and really all it is helping is reinforcing a pecking order between artists like Katy Perry and Taylor Swift. Artists are also using streaming and combined sales to allow fans ”access” for things like ticket sales. I read a pretty disgusting article last year about the lengths someone has to go through to buy Taylor Swift concert tickets via the VIP fan network. Everything that counted as a sale gave you more rewards so that when tickets went on sale you were hopefully closer to the head of the virtual queue. To me it read like a way of driving chart positions by convincing your fans to buy the same product or iterations of it more than once. I *think* this is the article that I read originally, my memory is thinking it was on a gawker site but this hits a lot of the details that I recall.
Depeche Mode use exactly the same “leap up the picking order the more you pay” system of ticket queuing with no guarante you have a ticket at the end of it. Great for the band, their bank balance and their ego. Not so great for the fans
Duncan Watson – Remind me to never see Depeche Mode in concert again… no wait! I already did that 28 years ago! Ha ha!
Tim – That is a crazy look behind the avaricious world of ticket sales! I especially loved the bitterly devastating conclusion of the writer at the article’s end. Yes, we all had it better before the internet made it possible to seriously game ticket sales.
I have a lot to say about this topic, but streaming per se has taken off for a number of reasons, portability being chief among them. It has numerous advantages and some serious (for people like us) disadvantages, but it isn’t all that different from the cassette boom (that nearly killed off records) or the CD boom (which did — for a while). But I must correct one grossly-mistaken impression: serving music via hosting is not very expensive, especially by comparison to all the previous forms of distribution. For a band — unless you’re Drake or someone like that — it costs the same as putting up a web page.
If you’re bigger than a local band, you use Bandcamp or iTunes or something similar, and their costs are pretty negligible as well on a per-artist basis. Bandcamp had to build infrastructure for their catalog the hard way*, but Amazon/Apple/et al already had those server farms for software distribution and other online commerce/services — the cost of the “iTunes Store” is relatively peanuts, and Apple (et al) make a profit on that 30 percent they take from sales. But this is considerably lower than the CD distribution model, where the shop and the distributor between them got around (or more than) 60 percent of the cost of a CD or album.
(*Bandcamp likely uses Amazon’s S3 or Microsoft’s Azure or the like, in truth.)
If you’re already running a streaming service, downloads cost literally nothing extra to do, so I wouldn’t worry too much about them — they’ll continue to be high-profit items compared to streaming revenues, and again cost essentially nothing if you’re already doing streaming apart from some purchase/credit processing fees.
Streaming as it is now has some serious issues (mostly that it doesn’t compensate artists as well as downloads, which compensate artists less well than CD sales, and so on down the ladder), and the collector market (or just casual music buyers who like having physical objects) is shrinking. Streaming didn’t start that — starvation wages and high rents started that — but streaming is the gas on that fire. I love using streaming services as an enormous jukebox, but I continue to buy CDs — though I have shifted to mainly buying “superdeluxe” type physical releases rather than “regular” CDs, and even that mainly for the artists I most admire rather than any artist I have some interest in.
I see this an evolution of the market, a return to radio in a sense (in that it is “broadcast” but now highly personalized by the user — which is killing FM radio**), and a format that is likely to be around for a long time — but not significantly different from the threat the previous various format changes posed to the existing de facto format of the day. The same thing is happening in video: Blu-ray is giving way to streaming too. Is it short-sighted? Sure is, but then records and tapes (and CDs to a lesser extent) don’t hold up to well to the ravages of time without careful preservation either, even though they’re superior to digital in that way. If I had to guess, I’d say downloads will come back into fashion next, only in a near-lossless form as algorithms and/or bandwidth improves. Physical objects d’musique will keep on being produced for the niche market as long as they keep producing such nice packages and enough people are willing to pay for them.
(**plus we need those frequencies for more advanced Wi-Fi/Cellular purposes! I’m convinced we are living in the last couple of decades of radio as we know it.)