Mark Mulligan wrote a great post on 'The Real Problem with Streaming', in which he starts by breaking down streaming music’s sustainability from the creator perspective:
“Music consumption is inarguably moving towards access based models so the question is not whether streaming should happen or not, but how to make it work as well as it possibly can for all parties. As unfair as it might seem, the baseline issues regarding creator income could go unchanged without streaming business models falling apart.”
How does this shift affect the dynamics of the traditional music industry? He calls it the ‘Great Role Reversal’:
“In the digital era the record labels undisputedly hold the whip hand, and some. In the analogue era the roles were reversed. Retailers were the dominant partners and they knew it. Record labels actually paid retailers for placement to promote new releases.”
The combination of streaming's emergence as the mainstream distributor of music, and the major label consolidation of the past 15 years, has created what Mulligan refers to as a ‘De Facto Label Monopoly’, giving each of the 3 major labels left standing (Sony, Universal, Warner) tremendous veto power via the threat of opting out of any service’s core offering.
“So even though no major label is a monopoly in its own right each has an effective monopoly power in licensing. These factors give labels them the strength and confidence to demand terms that would not take place in an openly competitive market.”
So how does music move forward under these conditions?
Imagine a single place where DJs, bloggers, and that friend you always ask for music recommendations all shared their favorite up-and-coming artists; where you forget the flash and branding, and someone's ‘Taste in Music’ was purely evaluated based on how early they discover new artists and how successful those artists go on to become. A democratic community where everyone contributes, but not all opinions are created equal.
Let’s be real, right now you’re going to listen to a recommendation from your friend over any Beats1 DJ or Pitchfork article for several reasons:
- We currently have no real way of evaluating the taste of these so-called ‘experts’.
- Beats1 DJs and Pitchfork writers are tasked with accruing as big an audience as they can, so it’s their job to identify major trends, not hand pick what’s best for you.
- Your friend will always know the nuances in your taste better than anyone else. Like the difference between ‘Hip Hop’ and ‘Real Hip Hop.’
Technology has created a unique moment in time where we can finally do ‘discovery’ right. Mass adoption of the internet has finally given everyones’ taste in music the opportunity to be shared with more people than ever before. What we need now is a system that properly evaluates each person’s taste in music and enables everyone to easily find great new music that suits their own particular taste. We need a place where we can once again have fun and find intrigue in Sharing Music. Meaningfully.