How streaming culture hurts the music industry

Harlan Crawford is a freshman politics major.

GRAPHIC BY DANA CAPISTRANO/GRAPHICS CENTER

The 21st century has rapidly altered the way we listen to music. Unlike what our parents grew up with, we are now able to access music with the click of a mouse instead of having to drive to a record store across town. While this convenience has undoubtedly been great for universal accessibility, there are many repercussions in how the internet and streaming culture has negatively impacted the music and movie industries. As the child of a former Atlantic Records employee, who has seen the inner workings of the industry firsthand, witnessing how the newfound, disproportionate benefits that record labels and big streaming businesses enjoy have in no way trickled down to smaller, up-and-coming artists — the everyday people who were promised a fair shot in this nation — has been an increasingly frustrating reality for me.                                                    

By 2011, physical copies of vinyl, cassette tapes, and CDs were pushed to the side when digital downloads became the primary method of consumption for music.  When this seismic shift occurred, it forced record labels to shift their marketing and production strategies drastically. Labels made the decision to devalue their signed artists to quite despicable, unjust extents — despite that in recent years, streaming profits have seen increases that near almost 50%, companies have decided to not share this wealth with artists, with musicians only receiving compensation for around 12-15% of the revenue they directly generate from streams and subscription, showing just how devalued these artists are. Artists are also actively encouraged to decrease the time and quality on their tracks in order to boost revenue totals by getting more streams. Overall, this has been increasingly upsetting for me, as the decreased emphasis on CDs makes me miss the days where I would play Portugal. The Man or Lupe Fiasco CDs on my stereo, instead of streaming it off of my iPhone, a much less wholesome, memorable or authentic experience that traditionally, fans and artists like me have gotten, especially as a music nerd myself. 

In this modern world of music being convenient and on our phones, labels and their executives are the only winners. While they take in profits like never before seen, their artists don’t even receive anywhere near half of the revenue they generate, and us listeners are fed dumbed down, low-quality tunes that exist for the sole purpose of garnering more streams.

Just as the newfound technology-based economy has rapidly gutted income equality and economic mobility, pirated content (content stolen or illegally downloaded without proper copyright licensing) has become increasingly prominent in the marketplace in recent times. Pirating has become such a problem that streaming giants like Netflix have seen a 40% dip in the number of films they’ve been able to display on their service. Pirating, therefore, has become yet another issue that has come with the new problem filled streaming age, that demands attention. Money in the scenario of pirating goes to those in the dark web, not the artists who work hard to produce their art. 

Overall, while the expansion of streaming services has been great for the convenience of some and the profits of their corporations, artists and listeners clearly haven’t been the winners in this scenario. The internet has really only existed for around 40 years now, so while it’s tempting to pirate, don’t do it. All artists greatly rely on the royalties they make from their art, and it’s cheating them to enjoy their creations and the emotions they’ve invoked within you without giving them what they’re due. While the music industry and the way we listen to music has arguably changed for the worse, we can still find our way to a used record store and carry home an armful of vinyls produced the way music was meant to be listened to. What we can do to combat the ever-increasing reality of corporate profits skyrocketing while we don’t benefit is we can buy music, instead of streaming it, so we’re able to get a piece of the pie that companies have garnered. 

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