This year many were doubting if any artist would release a platinum album, but that all changed with Taylor Swift’s “1989,” which is on pace to be the biggest album release since 2002. Aside from Swift’s success, the lack of well-selling albums illustrates a shift in the music industry away from albums and vinyls [what century are you living in?] as consumers are moving to streaming and pirating to satisfy their music fix. However, this past week Swift grabbed more headlines by pulling her music from the popular streaming service Spotify, which has more than 40 million users, and by saying she sees the service as nothing more than a “grand experiment” that does not “fairly compensate” the artists. It’s clear her album name is not the only thing stuck in the past.
While Swift may not be ready to face the future of the industry, consumers have already made their choice and shifted towards streaming services. The ability to find new artists at the click of a mouse, purchase songs individually, and the general convenience of streaming services meant that the decline of albums began long ago, even if some musicians are clinging onto the past. The decision to not enter into agreements with streaming services typically comes from the small royalties that musicians receive. Artists only earn half a cent for each play of their music on Spotify, but over 70% of the service’s revenue goes to artists.
Swift may be able to afford not participating in commercial partnerships with streaming services, but for most artists refusal to stream would be too costly. Streaming services actually lower barriers to entry for artists because it is free to upload music to most services and the website will promote the music for them. Furthermore, it matches consumers with similar tastes to the artist and can allow artists to free ride on the success of artists with similar styles. Streaming easily promotes artists and increases long run profits by driving ticket sales- the real money maker for an artist. Swift’s decision may have gotten plenty of attention, but expect few artists to make a similar decision because streaming is here to stay, to the benefit of consumers and producers alike.