When Napster, arguably one of the earliest streaming services and ultimately illegal one, first started, I wondered if anyone ever thought streaming would become the dominant way to listen to music?
Non-audiophiles have been streaming for quite a long while. In the audiophile world, streamed music at a minimum of CD quality, as well as higher resolutions, has exploded in the last five years. So much so, I have little doubt streaming is also how a large percentage of audiophiles obtain music. I myself subscribe to Tidal and Qobuz, although neither is my preferred listening method.
Streaming comes very close to checking all my boxes...Minimum of CD quality? Check. Better than CD quality? Check. Variety? Big check. No one could listen to every available song in ten lifetimes. Cost / Value? Absolutely. Convenience? Check, with conditions. If you know what you are looking for it is not too terribly difficult. However, with twenty million or more songs available, and you are just looking for something new and previously unheard, "search" can be a bit overwhelming.
For my purposes, streaming is more of a way to identify new music I would like to purchase and copy onto my server - unless of course I plan to buy the LP. Why my server? Simple, on my system, music from my server sounds better than streaming.
But this is how I roll and while doing so may work for me, it obviously doesn't work for everyone. Those who prefer streaming above all other music delivery options are absolutely correct in their choice. Of course, audiophiles know this already. One question not discussed all that often in audiophile circles is how much does streaming pay out? Can ALL artists make a living by relying on streamed music? I suppose it is a fair sentiment that as consumers of a musical product, namely songs, albums, LP's or whatever they might be called, we are not terribly concerned about how much income is made by those responsible for making music available for us to buy. If an artist has their own private recording studio or rents one, it hardly matters to us as consumers. Is that really how we want to view things?
I tend to think we as audiophiles should be somewhat measurably interested in whether or not the artists whose music we enjoy can remain in business. Because for audiophiles, this is a hobby paid for by monies we are not spending elsewhere. For the artists producing the music, it is how they earn a living. Basically, we need each other.
According to Digital Music News and based on their 2019 survey, Pandora pays, on average, $1,472.00 for 88,000 plays. Pandora has excellent royalty rates to artists. You Tube, on the other hand, was last and in order to make the same $1472.00, an artist would need to have a song streamed, or better put downloaded, 2,133,333 times. Remember Napster? Well they didn't go away. Last purchased by then Rhapsody International they officially changed their name to Napster and are a pay for music service. Their payout ranks highest in the industry at $0.019 per stream. In order to earn that same $1472.00, a song would need 77,474 downloads. So, what about Tidal? Well they are pretty nice to the artists paying out $0.01284 per download.
So, once again, to earn our $1472.00, 117,760 downloads would be required. On the downside, according to Digital Music News, last year Tidal lost $6.67 per subscriber for a total loss of $28 million. How long Tidal can continue to support such year over year losses is anyone guess. Hopefully, Jay-Z and the other investors have very deep pockets.
Let's look at this more closely. By any measure, be it 77K or over two million downloads, that is a lot of people listening to a song just to earn $1472.00. Depending on the artist's popularity, where they live, what their tax bracket might be, their expenses, and if they provide any sort of insurance, that same $1472. 00 could easily be reduced by 50% to 75% before anyone even has sufficient cash to get a cheeseburger. And from where did this figure of $1472.00 come?
Well, it is the US Monthly Minimum Wage. That seems like a whole lot of work and effort to walk away with what ultimately may only be a few hundred dollars.
Now of course, there are some bastions of musical greatness whose popularity is widespread and profound. Such groups could have multiple songs, dozens even being downloaded at the same time in the tens of millions of streams. They are producing volume and income. I see this like playing football - going from high school, to college to the pros, each step along the way the number of those that move to the next level drops considerably. It is a many come but few are chosen paradigm. Recording artists are much the same. For every mega group, there are multitudes who struggle to survive. And all of them, because of how the music industry works, at some point will very likely need to go on tour.
And what about selling CD's or LP's? Well, there are multiple levels of costs imposed by the recording studios; so as usual, the artist typically winds up being paid last. Either way, unless you are a popular music group, and I mean stratospheric popularity, making a living in music can be decidedly difficult. Hopefully, the audiophile hobby recognizes the financial struggle many artists endure. Bottom line - respect and support the artists we all rely on to fulfill our audiophile enjoyment. It's the right thing to do.