STREAMING MUSIC

The way in which we access music has changed completely. Although you can still purchase CD’s, DVD’s etc. at a personal level most access to songs these days is an online digital process.

The latest addition to the world of music streaming is huge. According to revered music mag Rolling Stone “Apple Music, contains many features that streaming-music fans will expect (playlists galore, algorithmically guessed genre spotlights) in addition to an emphasis on music recommendations by real-life humans. The heart of the service is Beats 1, the Trent Reznor-conceived radio station that will be free to everyone and feature programs by Dr. Dre, Elton John, St. Vincent, Zane Lowe and others. It also contains a section curated based on users’ individual musical tastes with playlists and other features, another offering new music, a quasi-social network called Connect and a place to play a user’s iTunes collection.“ It appears that it will provide streaming access to the whole i-Tunes library.

The superstar rapper and entrepreneur Jay Z made headlines recently when he bought the previously little-known Swedish streaming service Tidal. Tidal had previously been an also-ran in the streaming wars, but Jay invited the world’s biggest music stars, including Beyoncé, Rihanna, Madonna, Alicia Keys, Daft Punk and members of Coldplay, the White Stripes and Arcade Fire, to run the company with him. The artists pledge to fix the streaming business so it pays more royalties to those who make the music, but Tidal hasn’t outlined exactly how it will achieve this — Vania Schlogel, a senior executive, says it’s simply a matter of not offering the service for free. Will that be enough? We’ll see, especially after the Apple launch.

“Music is a really important part of the YouTube experience,” the company’s chief executive Susan Wojcicki said a year ago, shortly after taking over. Just about every piece of music ever recorded appears on YouTube, for free, and any Spotify or Beats that attempts to charge listeners for streaming must contend with this reality. “YouTube is the world’s largest freemium service, and that is frustrating,” says Ian Montone, manager of Jack White, Vampire Weekend and others. “It can also be a discovery tool.” Google owns it and is just too powerful to regulate in the traditional way through licensing deals.

Then there’s Spotify. Daniel Ek is the head honcho here. Spotify is about to raise US$400 million in new funding, which would bring the streaming service’s value to US$8.4 billion — a ridiculous number considering the U.S. record industry’s entire revenue is roughly US$12 billion. After Taylor Swift ripped Spotify last year as a “grand experiment” that doesn’t properly compensate artists and songwriters, major labels have pushed to limit the free side of its “freemium” service.

But the service with 60 million users refuses to budge. Ek, the company’s founder, wrote a long and detailed blog post last autumn in response to Swift and others, saying the company has paid $2 billion to rights holders and “we’re working day and night to recover money for artists and the music business that piracy was stealing away.” Any road to winning the streaming wars goes through Ek and Spotify.

About the author: Dalene Haugh