U.S. data suggests music streaming has gone mainstream
(Caption: The CD is going the way of the dodo. Peter Vogel writes about a group of new upstart services that offer millions of songs for a low price. Photo credit: Arun Kulshreshtha / Wikimedia Commons.)
A recent report suggests that, in 2014, revenue from streaming music services exceeded that of CD sales for the first time ever. The data was particular to the United States, but it probably applies here as well.
It is no secret that revenues from CD and DVD sales are falling. Even digital music sales from platforms such as iTunes are down.
All three of these downturns can be attributed, at least in some measure, to the popularity of all-you-can-eat streaming services, which in turn owe their existence to widespread availability and adoption of broadband Internet services.
There's no shortage of companies in the streaming music field. Some you'll know, others may be geo-blocked here in Canada. Recognize any of these names? Spotify, Deezer, Pandora, Rdio, Songza?
Just as with Netflix and its all-you-can-view model of movies for around $10 a month, the streaming music services have staked out the same pricing model. Most also offer a free subset with certain playing restrictions.
Apple, noticing a decline in music purchases on its iTunes service, dropped $3 billion to acquire established streaming service Beats. The acquisition was notable for being Apple's biggest corporate acquisition.
Nearly a year after the purchase, Apple has yet to decide what it will do with Beats, which remains a rather small player online.
In a move reminiscent of the establishment of United Artists in 1919 by Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and others, music mogul Jay Z and several high-profile musicians recently joined forces to form Tidal, a new fee-only streaming service, promising "millions of songs" at $10 a month for a basic service and $20 a month for higher-quality audio.
Tidal seems like a long shot. There's no denying the talent present at the roll-out, but unless the newcomer can secure, say, early-release rights on new content, there seems little reason for existing users of streaming music to switch from their present service.
There was no shortage of hyperbole about Tidal, especially from artist Alicia Keys. Example: [Tidal is] "a moment that will forever change the course of music history."
It is difficult to see how a service designed to funnel even more money to already established and wealthy musicians will resonate with consumers used to either free or at most $10 streaming services. As for changing music history, let's check back on Tidal in a year or two.
Here in Canada access to music streaming services arrived later than it did in much of the rest of the world. Market leader Spotify, which claims around 60 million active users and 15 million paying subscribers, came to Canada last year. So did France-based Deezer, which claims to have more than 5 million paying users.
They joined the awkwardly named Google Play Music All Access Service, which has an unknown number of subscribers and is likely to be rebranded soon.
Industry pioneer Pandora, the most popular service in the United States, has been geo-blocked here for many years, primarily because of licensing restrictions from the major music publishing and recording companies. These would be the big four: Universal Music Group, EMI (partially absorbed into Universal), Sony Music, and Warner Music Group.
Teacher Angela Filipovic-Bajamic is a fan of Spotify. "I use the free version of Spotify and love it. I'm able to save songs I like to my own playlist and find good playlists by genre. I'm not bothered by the short, periodic ads that play, as they are far less intrusive than radio ads."
She used to listen to Songza (now owned by Google), but found it annoying that skips were limited and that she couldn't replay songs that she liked.
Colleague Quentin Paras was even more effusive over Spotify. "My wife and I have been using Spotify for 5 months now, and it has changed the way we listen to music! I no longer listen to music for the sake of listening to music but rather to accommodate an emotion or the mood that I am in."
"I tell Spotify how I am feeling and instantly I am provided with a variety of outlets to meet that feeling. I tell Spotify what time of day it is and I am given an array of channels that correspond with music for that time of day. Not only is Spotify intuitive, it is easy to use and versatile on any device, whether using the free or premium account."
Both provide the same music experience, the premium account removing commercials and allowing pre-downloading of stations or channels to your device to take on the go. He would recommend Spotify to anyone looking for a quality, versatile, and affordable music-streaming service.
Where once music piracy carried the day (remember Napster, Kazaa, Limewire?) music streaming services are now pretty much mainstream. Relatively low fees (or even no-cost ad-supported service) and content free of viruses or tracking codes have won over a largely skeptical audience.