The Hodgepodge: Streaming Is Proving To Be Too Much of a Good Thing

Spotify

I make my return to The Hodgepodge! And this isn’t just a one-off appearance either, as I will be taking it over for the rest of the year. You’re probably wondering what’s up? Well Derek has a lot on his plate in the next month and I’ve got a few ideas that I’ve been wanting to write about, so this felt like the right thing to do for both of us. Don’t worry you’ll still see Derek around, as you’ll be seeing more reviews from him in the next month instead of The Hodgepodge. Derek has been doing a fine job with The Hodgepodge and will return to writing it in 2016. So what’s on my mind…

Streaming is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Of course I’ve discussed this before in The Hodgepodge. The first Hodgepodge column ever touched on it. So I wanted to revisit it now after I’ve had a lot more experience with a variety of streaming services. What inspired me to write this post was the following tweet I saw weeks ago:

For those unfamiliar with Zac Wilkerson, he’s an artist from Amarillo, Texas who’s music is a combination of soul, country and folk music. He’s an independent artist who doesn’t have a large following. So you can see how Spotify screws him and other independent artists over. Only $310 for over 60,000 streams is ridiculously low and is not enough to financially support anyone. To give you an idea between the difference of money between streaming and buying an album, let’s divide 63,640 by 1500. According to Billboard, 1500 streams equal one album sale. The result of the above equation is about 43 albums sold. The average album costs $12. So multiply 43 by 12 and this gives the amount of money made from the sales, which is $516. It’s not a huge increase from the $310 made from Spotify, but this is just a very basic comparison that doesn’t factor in many variables and other factors involved here. Did the people who stream Wilkerson’s music go onto buy an album from him? Or even merchandise or concert tickets as a result of discovering him? Unfortunately this is something that we can’t determine.

So the obvious downside of streaming is less money for the artist. The other downside of course is streaming is eating into music sales badly. According to Nielsen/Billboard data, digital song sales have gone down 10.4% and on-demand audio streaming has ballooned up 74% to 58.6 billion plays in 2015. Vinyl sales have once again increased this year, up 38.4% in sales. Also it’s worth pointing out that CD album sales are trumping digital album sales. So it’s a tale of two schools of thought in 2015: the casual listener who uses Spotify, Apple Music or some other streaming service and the traditional listener who prefers a physical media. There are a lot more streamers though than physical media purchasers. It’s the clear dominant preference of the average listener right now.

You could make a big argument that streaming has become so popular because the quality of music is down and people are reluctant to trust the music marketplace. But that involves a lot of opinions and it’s an argument that will just go round and round. I prefer to point out something more factual: streaming is simply too convenient. For $9.99 month you can get all the music you want from Apple Music, Spotify or Google Play. Spotify sweets it up even more by offering new users three months up front of Spotify premium for only 99 cents. These streaming subscriptions allow you to download unlimited music for offline play as long as you continue to pay a monthly fee. If you download just one album and you listen to it, you’re already getting your money’s worth. It’s ridiculously friendly to customers and inherently unfair to artists who aren’t named Katy Perry or Taylor Swift.

After years of dismissing streaming, I gave into streaming this year even, as I subscribed to Google Play music. It’s kind of important to have this as a music reviewer though. Do you really think I’m going to buy Luke Bryan albums to review them? This is where I point out the good side of streaming, which is discovery and quality control. I’ve discovered numerous new artists via streaming and I never would have been able to find them without streaming. Buying blind is something I was never a fan of and streaming allows me to listen to the music before deciding if I want to purchase the album. So when an artist puts out a bad album now, you can stream it instead of buying it and wasting your money. Of course this isn’t possible with Garth Brooks albums, as he’s an old man who refuses to get with the times and is forcing his crappy GhostTunes down everyone’s throats. But you get the point with the good side of streaming: it allows you to be a smarter customer and expands your music collection with easy discovery.

Streaming is obviously proving to be too much of a good thing. There isn’t any balance here, as the customers are reaping all the rewards and artists aren’t reaping enough from it. That’s not to say customers shouldn’t be getting a lot out of it, as they’re the lifeblood behind every artist. The customer/listener should be the priority. But if the artist isn’t making any money, there isn’t any music for the listener to consume. So here’s my solution to this ongoing problem: limit the amount of streaming. It shouldn’t be taken away completely, as I believe it has its place in the music industry. Instead let’s just put a cap to how many times you can stream an album and songs before you have to purchase it. Bandcamp, my personal favorite streaming service, has something similar in place right now:

By default, fans can play tracks on Bandcamp only a few times in full, after which they get a dialog prompting them to buy. As the artist, you can up this limit, or remove it entirely, from your Profile page (you of course always get unlimited plays of your own tracks, but for the curious, here’s what the purchase prompt looks like). When a fan makes a purchase, they get unlimited streaming via the free Bandcamp app for Android, iOS and Sonos, an optional download in a variety of high-quality formats including lossless, and of course the satisfaction of directly supporting an artist they love.

This is a great idea that is fair to the artist and listener. Make it to where an album can only be played, let’s say six times before the listener can no longer stream it. Also the option to download songs for offline listening and paying a monthly fee to keep them in your library should be banned, as this is just too much for the listener. They must be forced to buy the album after so many streams if they want to keep listening. By doing this the listener still gets plenty of streams to determine whether or not to buy the album, while the artists will get more sales. Artist discovery would still exist too. This is a win-win for everyone involved. I plead to the streaming companies and the artists to heed my advice and make the music environment an even better place for all involved.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Jason Boland & The Stragglers will release their new album Squelch tomorrow.
  • Corb Lund will release his new album Things That Can’t Be Undone tomorrow.
  • Toby Keith will release a new album tomorrow titled 35 MPH Town.
  • Jana Kramer will be releasing her sophomore album thirty one tomorrow.
  • The Voice alumnus Jake Worthington will be releasing his self-titled debut EP next Friday. Based on what I’ve heard from it so far it’s very good.
  • Alt-country band The Yawpers will be releasing a new album on October 30 titled American Man.
  • Josh Abbott Band announced they’re releasing a new album on November 6 titled Front Row Seat.
  • The Band Perry will be releasing a new album on November 20 titled HEART+BEAT.

Great Music Currently At Country Radio

You know I spend so much time (rightly) ragging on all the crap on country radio at the moment. But I realized I need to spend more time promoting the good at country radio too, even if there isn’t a lot of it. So a new feature I’ve added here to The Hodgepodge is a playlist of the songs I consider good currently at country radio. In order for a song to be added to the list, it must currently be in the top 60 of the Billboard Country Airplay chart, so this will be updated weekly. So check it out below!

Throwback Thursday Song

“I Will Always Love You” – Dolly Parton – I’ve been listening to the new Don Henley album a lot and of course as I said in my review of it that my favorite song on it is the duet with Henley and Dolly Parton, “When I Stop Dreaming.” This made me want to listen to more music from Dolly and one of my favorites from her is this song. Everybody loves to say this is Whitney Houston’s song and it isn’t. This is Dolly’s song and she does it best and I will argue this with anyone. I also discovered Dolly sang this with Carrie Underwood a few years ago and you can see that here. Listen to both, as the first one is not only Dolly performing it, but explaining the story behind the song.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

“Born to Shine” – Big Grams, Big Boi & Phantogram featuring Run The Jewels – One of my favorite groups in all of music and my current top favorite in hip-hop Run The Jewels is featured throughout this song, so I checked out this entire album from Big Gram, Big Boi & Phantogram. I didn’t like the album, except for this because it’s Run The Jewels and everything they touch is gold. I can’t wait for RTJ3.

Tweet of the Week

Drunken Martina is the best and if you’re on Twitter, the account is a must-follow. Also it was so great to see Rhett get outsold by Strait and Henley. Quality wins again!

iTunes Review That Rocks

Great Strait Review

Now here’s someone who gets it. I love this review even more because it’s someone who says they aren’t even a country fan and they know Strait is the real deal. This is why Strait is one of the all-time best.

Thanks for reading and be sure to weigh in below!