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Life Is But A Stream
When my original post about music streaming received 5.8k shares & 1k comments I realized I’d struck a nerve and wasn’t alone. I also felt that I needed to follow through, learn as much as I could and continue to shine a light on this conversation. Since my original post, I’ve met with Apple Music, Spotify, consulted with Socan, Songwriters Association of Canada, Unison Benevolent Fund, as well as spoke on CBC’s “Metro Morning”, “As It Happens”, “Fresh Air” and with countless musicians & members of the industry.
6 months later I’m sharing this because many have asked what came of it all. This is an update to my thoughts. My little Mueller report. And because sometimes personal stories resonate the loudest. I don’t claim to have the answer but wanted to book-end my post and was encouraged by others to keep the conversation going.
That post in Nov/18 expressed concern with how poorly musicians were compensated from streaming services & offered my album sales as an example; declining each year since streaming. But after speaking with so many musicians I’ve realized there may be even bigger problems.
I think much of the mystique of the musician was lost when streaming services started publicly posting an artist’s streams & followers. In a business that can be so dependent on perception it’s tough to try and present/build your career when someone unplugs the dry ice machine. Not to mention how all these numbers & algorithms influence & manipulate our emotions. And then, the allure and pressure of getting on playlists convinced musicians to hand over everything they’d ever created. And (in a sense) somewhat forced them to as all that data is used to determine whether they’re eligible for grants as well as influencing airplay, bookings etc.
“Since losing my album sales revenue to
streaming I need a grant to make an album,
but I don’t qualify without streaming numbers”
- Anonymous (JUNO Winner)
”The stats thing is going to be the end of all meaningful art.
It’s a giant popularity contest, which means it inherently panders”
- Anonymous (JUNO Nominated)
Without a doubt, this is a tough topic. I’ve flip-flopped for months about saying anything until I realized that almost every artist I spoke to admitted the same thing - That they’re afraid to speak out in fear of being left off of playlists or blacklisted in someway (hence the anonymous quotes). Is it possible our music community is stuck in an unhealthy relationship; afraid to speak up and making excuses of how it doesn’t apply to them? I believe most musicians remain silent because they are afraid. I know I am. This raises the question…how is this weighing on the mental health of Canadian musicians?
“Who wants to come forward and complain when Spotify
(or other artists) will say - your music just isn’t that good,
no one likes it. Shame and humiliation are
powerful fears and motivators- they enforce silence”
- Anonymous (JUNO winner)
It’s sobering to remember if you are one of the few artists with millions of streams, that’s still only a few thousand dollars. Even if you had 20 MILLION streams, you’d earn around $70k. That’s not a lot once you subtract the expenses of being a band, recording, touring, manufacturing, management, lawyers, agents, labels and then splitting what’s left between all the members. And how do you sustain those numbers over a whole career? And I’m still unclear how those streams translate into real fans? Why are some artists with millions of streams playing the same size rooms as me and not filling stadiums? How do those millions of listens become active life-long shirt-buying fans? And just yesterday I was sent an article in Canadian Musician showing how streaming algorithms don’t favour Canadian content.
While the top few have found success, the many are hurting. Maybe in a few years we’ll find that the playlist was a mirage in the desert that only a few lucky found. By then our unique & diverse artists may have been starved out while the industry will have made billions more (like the 19 billion they’ve claimed to make in 2018 - Rolling Stone Magazine - “Music is finally making more money than it was in 2007)
“The average person has a WAY bigger music collection than 30 years ago. People are consuming TOO MUCH music for the model to make sense. It would be like, all clothing is available from whatever department store you subscribe too. Just walk in and take everything you can carry. Don’t forget, you have a pocket sized magical wardrobe that can store everything in the store and at the warehouse”
- Anonymous (Multiple award winner / Household name)
“I think it’s insane that you can have all the music in the history of the entire world for $9.99. We paid $75 a month for shitty cable for 20yrs. Make it $19.99 and give that extra to the creators. The streaming service would still make the same and musicians could survive”.
- Anonymous (JUNO nominee)
I thank Spotify for taking the time to meet with me. I understand the convenience & app but I’m torn. I’m not a fan of how little they compensate creators, their tier that gives away free music, the publishing of follower & streaming numbers...and with 96 million paid subscribers it’s disappointing they don’t invest in or create any music content.
* APPLE MUSIC
I thank the Apple Music Canada team for meeting with me & continuing to keep in touch with me. I appreciate they are the only streaming service that agreed to pay songwriters MORE under the The Music Modernization Act. I also appreciate that they don’t offer a free tier, don’t post an artist’s streams & followers and continue to sell albums/songs in their store giving fans the option to support the artists they love
It isn’t lost on me that this is a problem shared by many art forms. Photography, film, graphic design etc. And I'm not suggesting people stop using streaming services. And as I’ve said before, no one needs to feel sorry for me. This is what I chose to do. I still lick each stamp, hand-write each envelope & stand in line at the post office twice a week to ship merch orders and I love it. But I worry how much harder it might be for young, unique, upcoming artists. Believe me, there’s nothing I’d love more than to be wrong about all of this but when something has no value, how is it sustainable?
I’m hopeful change can happen through legislation (CHPC committee report) - Unless musicians band together to pull their music (leaving the services with no content), but that seems doubtful, and unfortunate as (maybe) we could control this if we just chose to.
I hope for a Canada (and beyond) where all hard-working artists succeed with stability, health & dignity; able to thrive, hire more people within the industry and keep art and culture alive. Like any unhealthy relationship, it’s scary to stand up or try to change your situation. But the most important thing is to keep talking about it. Share this post, leave a comment (here) and share your story. Thanks to so many who helped with this.
P.S. Now, to lighten the mood, please enjoy an unreleased full quality 24 bit / 48 kHz unreleased original demo of “Purgatory Cove” EXCLUSIVELY on MYSPACE
Yep you heard me. ONLY on myspace. A place where no one wins! LOL!!!!!
SOURCES & RELATED LINKS:
MUSIC CANADA - CLOSING THE VALUE GAP
IS CANCON COMPATIBLE WITH STREAMING?
REPORT SHOWS MAJORS EARNING $800K/HOUR FROM STREAMING SERVICES
ROLLING STONE - THE MUSIC MODERNIZATION ACT
ADDRESSING MENTAL HEALTH IN MUSIC WITH THE TREWS
UNISON BENEVOLENT FUND