After really listening to and thinking about David Byrne’s points from his recent piece in The Guardian, I’m moved to share my thoughts and perspectives simply as a consumer of music. I love streaming services and I’ve felt that way ever since I bought my first Rhapsody account years and years ago. But my love is a selfish love. And as a music fan and as someone who’s part of this industry, I have a responsibility to look at the bigger picture and to ask what is right and what is best for the long-term health of art and artists.
Streaming—in its current iteration—isn’t the solution. I love the ease of streaming. I love the convenience. And I love the nearly endless selections. But I can’t remember when streaming has ever made me want to go and buy a CD or a download. Streaming has never encouraged me to buy merch. It’s never made me go to a show. And I’ve never taken any of the music discovery suggestions even remotely seriously. Let’s just do away with that argument entirely.
In fact, streaming is much better at showing me what I don’t like. I can quickly pull something up that I read about and try it on for size. More often than not, it doesn’t fit. Maybe that’s what I really love about streaming—the options of choice, the option to know what exists and to then move on.
So just thinking out loud, here are a few brainstorms that I’d be happy to live with as a fan.
1) It would be OK if there were a limit to how many times I could stream a song or an album. If I wanted to hear it again after the second listen, then I could accept a model that made me have to pay extra or to use a credit to get additional listens. This seems more than fair.
2) If I paid $X per month, I would feel entitled to “holding onto” a certain number of albums that I could listen to at anytime during the month. I’d still feel like I was getting a great deal if I could have unlimited access to 5 albums for $10 a month. And with a system like this in place, it would be fun to pick which albums I wanted to hold on to at the start of every month (once you chose your albums, you can’t make new choices until the end of the month and artists are paid a percentage based on actual numbers) Maybe that would bring some of the joy back to music. For as much as I love streaming, I’ll be the first to admit that something has been lost. The anticipation. The thrill of going to the record store. The scarcity. Nowadays, music is simply a commodity that I have unlimited access to. I’d be so happy to put artificial scarcity back into the equation if I knew that it would boost my enjoyment of “owning” music again.
When fans make concessions, others have to as well.
1) I’m more than willing to meet in the middle and to find a sustainable model for everyone but certain truths exist in the digital age. After an album is made, the marginal cost of reproduction and distribution is zero. The album itself has value; electronic access to it does not. Fans expect to pay less and artists expect to get paid more. Both views are valid, true and fair. The middlemen need to accept this.
2) I pay about $50 a month for my home cable modem and about $50 or so for my data plan on my phone. I do this so I can watch Netflix and listen to music online. I have no idea just what my ISP’s true expenses are but I believe that someone is making a killing here. We’ll never get to a truly sustainable model if online access fees aren’t factored into the equation. I’m sure this is a naive statement, but $1200 is a lot of CD’s and movies.
That’s my two cents for what it’s all worth. I want to thank Nigel Godrich, Damon Krukowski, Thom Yorke, David Byrne and all the other artists who have spoken up and who have focused the spotlight on this issue. Change begins with dissent. Like Fela said, Music is the Weapon.