Streaming: Free Music & The New Digital Vulnerability
When Chris DuPont first joined the GLG roster his sage wisdom on streaming really jumped out at us. Infectious Magazine agreed and recently had him write a guest blog post on their site which we are now sharing below.
Earlier in the year, I sat on the sidelines as my musician friends pulled apart the question of the hour: Should indie artists allow their music to be available for streaming services? As our culture continues to consume more quickly, and the ownership of digital purchases becomes more blurry, should we get with the times or stand against the tide?
Of course, the main monolith in the conversation is Spotify. But I’ve also spoken to artists who are afraid to make their music streamable on the indie-darling music platform Bandcamp, out of fear that availability of free plays will devalue the recordings. The two big concerns over streaming seem to be that it 1.) forces recording artists into an unsustainable financial system, and 2.) could de-incentivize purchases by making music too readily available.
Let’s look at #1 first. One big point of contention in the streaming discussion has been this helpful infographic about how much recorded music an artist has to sell to make minimum wage, broken down by medium and sales platform. These graphs, charts, and numbers can tell us a great deal, but ignore a crucial question: Should musicians expect to make their living on recordings alone? In a year where home recording costs virtually nothing, just about any artist with will power can make an album. Is there enough room in the industry for every artist to feel entitled to making a living in music without diversifying their revenue streams through touring or freelancing in some format?
Of course receiving a fraction of a cent per stream is unsustainable. But there is income through Spotify streams that these stats can’t possibly take into account. Consider the fact that Spotify publishes artists’ Songkick tour dates. I’ve had fans come to a show, pay cover, buy a T-shirt, and tell me “I found out about this date while listening to you on Spotify! I already own your CD but I stream it often to help your stats.”
Talk about a rad fan. If you consider a $10 CD, $20 shirt, and $7 cover, I don’t need any more of her money. She can stream my album all she wants!
This brings me to point #2. Making your music streamable for free is certainly a vulnerable move. But I believe vulnerability is inherent with a musical lifestyle, and I’ve seen it yield great results, and build a trust relationship between me and my more enthusiastic fans.
We can debate all day whether Spotify is good or bad news for artists, but we forget too easily that this platform is used by all sorts of people. This includes the less-than-considerate listeners (who could feasibly make your album “available offline,” never buy it, and laugh maniacally every time they listen), AND the beautiful generous mega-fans (who follow your tour dates and hand you cash money in person). Your career will always be vulnerable to both types of listener, so why not take the plunge?