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Peter Vogel

Streaming heralds new age of music consumption

Voices May 11, 2017

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CDs are so yesteryear. So, of course, are 8-tracks and cassettes, and, despite what you may have read, vinyl records.

Yes, there has been a bit of a resurgence in LP record sales, and something called Record Store Day (this year’s was held April 22) has gained some popularity in North America and the UK. Certain artists and bands release specialty albums for the day, hoping to draw fans to record store bins. For instance, this year the Grateful Dead released a two-LP set from recordings of their 1966 concert at the PNE Garden Auditorium here in Vancouver.

However, lest there be any doubt, here is a simple statistic to underscore the fact we are in the age of streaming, particularly for music. According to music industry analysis firm BuzzAngle Music, in 2016 Canadians streamed an average of 97 million songs a day – more than the 75 million tracks purchased for the entire year.

Read that again: 97 million songs streamed every day, versus 75 million songs purchased for the full year. Or, 35.5 billion streams, projected out over a year, versus 75 million sold. Based on these numbers, unit song sales represent just 0.2 per cent of the number streamed.

In the United States, 2016 data from the Recording Industry Association of America shows 51 per cent of all music sales came from streaming. For the first time in several years, total revenues are actually up. However, artists aren’t especially happy, as royalties from streaming are much lower than those from physical CD sales.

It has become fashionable to part with $10 a month for all-you-can-eat music subscriptions.

After a decade or two of bleak prospects for the music industry, especially post-Napster, things are looking up. Suddenly, after years of content piracy, it has become fashionable to part with $10 a month for all-you-can-eat music subscriptions.

Before covering this a little further, let me note my own situation. LPs are no longer played in my home, although there is a substantial collection of vinyl, along with two turntables. CDs are no longer played, although I have been known to come home with a bag or two full of them, acquired for a few dollars at the annual parish bazaar.

There are two streaming music subscriptions in this household. One is to Google Play Music All Access (the company really needs to come up with a better name for this service), another to France-based Deezer. In addition there are free accounts for Spotify, the world leader in music streaming, and for Pandora, the American streamer that is generally geo-blocked in Canada.

Coincident with the release of Samsung’s new S8/S8+ superphones, that company announced a partnership with Google to make the Google Play Music service the default player on all Samsung devices. In addition, Play Music subscribers will be able to store up to 100,000 personally owned tracks to stream from those devices, double the number offered to owners of other brands of smartphones and tablets.

Lately, the Deezer subscription has received more use than the Google service.

Lately, the Deezer subscription has received more use than the Google service because it has a presence on our Roku streaming video player. The slick remote that comes with the Roku box makes it easier to get at the music content. Otherwise, for the Google music, several steps are needed to get it streamed from a laptop to a Chromecast device plugged into the TV.

Hopefully Google will address some of the shortcomings of its music service, and also unify it with the enigmatic YouTube Red service. YTR has remained geo-blocked to Canadians since rollout two years ago.

Music streaming has changed the very nature of music consumption. Full-length albums may be available on the streaming services but their content is seldom consumed that way. Thematic “stations” and playlists have become the preferred consumption methods.

Streaming is here to stay. It is just so convenient, across multiple platforms. Vinyl record sales will remain a nostalgic afterthought for a declining fraction of the music-consuming population. Record stores too, will remain a quaint reminder of a simpler time.

Now does anyone still have an 8-track player I could borrow?

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