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11 December 2015, 17:59
RIP free streaming. We hardly knew ye.
Gone are the days when streaming music online seemed more like a right than a privilege.
In the year that Grooveshark met its demise, Soundcloud pissed off every major label, TIDAL relaunched its "premium lossless service" and Apple Music landed on the scene with the subtlety of a baby elephant, it is no wonder that Spotify is now rethinking the model that earned it ubiquity in the online streaming world.
Taylor Swift was lauded earlier this year when she famously wrote a blog post that resulted in Apple revisiting their compensation plan for Apple Music. "We don’t ask you for free iPhones," she wrote. "Please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation."
It's a nice sentiment and made sense considering Taylor's decision to keep 1989 off Spotify. Spotify has shown no signs of buckling under any criticism of its paltry compensation...until now.
Around 60 million people currently use Spotify for free, while a further 20 million are paid premium subscribers. Spotify execs are toying with the idea of premium content for premium users. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that a source (likely from within the company) has confirmed that Spotify is now looking to allow some artists to withhold their music from free users.
If a band you love strikes up an agreement with Spotify where they will be allowed to withhold their album from free users, it will now become significantly harder to track down their music online...legally, anyway.
Some may argue that YouTube is a free platform which has been largely unaffected by the crackdown of music streaming, but VEVO and artist's own uploads have been monetized (not amazingly so, but monetized nonetheless) for quite some time. Though YouTube does not cater to those looking to hear full releases. This is obviously a symptom of how users consume music (singles only, fam).
Inevitably, as the music industry and cohorts (Spotify, Apple Music) aggressively push back on free music streaming, they are unwittingly creating the perfect conditions for a massive resurgence in piracy. This common wisdom has, of course, been recently defied by the record breaking first week sales of Adele's 25. But Adele is the exception, not the rule.
And while we examine the charge of unfair compensation on the part of Spotify and other free streaming platforms, let's not forget that it is record labels that divvy up the royalties in the first place. Record labels could certainly do their part by negotiating fairer splits with the artists they represent.
Of course artists should be compensated fairly. You would have to be a virtual psychopath to believe that a creator doesn't deserve their fair share of the pie. But, with free streaming options down to little more than a few rag tag mp3 download sites, it's hard not to wonder about the future of music discovery.
At 15 I didn't have two nickels to rub together, but I knew that I loved music and I knew that I would have listened to everything in the whole world if I could. My friends burned CDs that we shared around and I certainly couldn't have afforded a subscription to a premium service like Spotify, Tidal, or Apple Music. While I loved music, my biggest barrier to entry was that I didn't have money to buy every CD I wanted to own. Nowadays, it's a lot easier and cheaper. But the slow, torturous, drawn out death of free streaming still feels sad, somehow.
Spotify have not yet announced details of its "window" plan, but here's to hoping the roll out is accompanied by a renewed enthusiasm for free streaming options and music discovery.