Today’s music news is that LastFM, one of the many streaming sites on the web, is no longer going to provide on-demand access to music through its own servers. It’s another twist in the streaming story, this time not so big a deal as Warner’s decision to discontinue making it’s catalogue available to streaming services. It’s not such a big deal because, whilst not providing the music itself, LastFM will offer a link to Spotify or Mog, where the track demanded will be available to listen to (unless it is a Warner track, or perhaps I’ve missed something). Streaming services are coming in for a bit of a backlash right now, mainly user-generated, partly due to a couple of statistics having come to light recently. One was the figure of $5000, quoted here in an earlier post, the sum total of most-streamed artist of 2009’s (Beyonce) streaming revenue. Then, to make things beautifully apt, seeing as they are currently in the charts with a collaboration you may have heard, another figure came to light. Lady GaGa earned less than $150 for the million times her record was played on Spotify. The backlash is coming from punters who, believing that blatant filesharing was wrong, as we in the business are at pains to point out to them, saw streaming services as a way that they could listen to all the music they liked whilst still compensating the artists involved in making it. This is why I’m so savagely pissed-off with streaming sites. Apart from any other debate about free-access to music and the publicity it generates, apart from any debate about how to monetize the image an act generates about itself; I am seething mad with streaming sites because they have so blatantly set themselves up as a middleman between artist and listener whilst providing neither with a satisfactory product. At no risk to themselves they have exploited people’s wish to do the right thing, collected advertising and subscription revenue, and compensated the artists with such miniscule amounts of money as to be insulting. The digital distribution of music has been a free-for-all as far as sales of ‘services’ to artists is concerned. In the age of physical product, there was a risk accrued by retailers, distributors, manufacturers etc. If the product didn’t actually sell, they were left with boxes of records taking up shelfspace and costing money. Prices reflected that, every CD sold had to help pay for all the ones that didn’t sell. Fair enough. Why exactly it should be the case that iTunes see fit to charge 60% of retail price on the price for a piece of music that can be infinitely reproduced from their servers though, I have no idea. Why synch agencies should see fit to charge £4.50 per each track they keep on their ‘database’, I don’t know. It goes on, applying the middleman principles throughout the whole industry. It creates distrust and resentment at all sides, not least in the eyes of the public who imagine that all the overheads that the industry claimed had to be paid for have now been eradicated and that they are just being expected to pay handsomely for a product which costs next-to-nothing to be produced in the first place. In fact, from a small independent’s point of view, the only saving made is on distribution, for which we pay a handsome 15% of net retail price to an agency, just to shift the binary code that it takes to move the music from their database to iTunes’. Sound recording, reproduction, mixing, mastering, promo, session musicians etc all cost the same as they ever did.
So, LastFM. Their main function will be to ‘scrobble’ the music that is in the playlists of their subscribers, make that information visible to other users, and to use it to generate suggestions as to what that person may wish to hear next. For this people will either pay a subscription, or be subject to advertisements at intervals. One million plays will continue to net the lucky artist whose fans now choose to access their music via streaming rather than by actually buying a recording, something like half an hour’s work from a decent mastering engineer.
Thanks, but no thanks.