Music Streaming Websites: Do They Help New Artists?
The music industry seems to be torn as to whether or not streaming is good for artists and the business. As it becomes clearer and clearer the format is here to stay, everybody (and I do mean everybody) feels the need to voice their opinion. There are certainly points to be made for both sides of the argument, and as with any business model, there are definitely those who benefit, while others don’t make out so well.
So, are these sites good for new artists? Yes and no. In this piece, I’ll tackle the reasons how streaming can be beneficial for those musicians just getting started, and in another, I’ll explain why perhaps music streaming websites aren’t helping as much as the industry would hope.
My favorite thing about streaming sites is they aren’t nearly as influenced by power players and gatekeepers as almost every other part of the music industry. Sure, preferential treatment is still given to those who already have hits and a fan base, or to those acts being pushed by major labels, but there is plenty of room for the big guys and the many, many newcomers who seem to blow up in short periods of time on streaming platforms.
In the past, getting serious attention and making it big relied almost entirely on being signed to a record label. They controlled which records and CDs were in stores, they had the money to promote a song to radio, and they had the large PR departments that could help break a new act. Independent artists simply didn’t have the opportunities they have now, which have all been created by the internet.
Instead of being chosen by a handful of executives in a room somewhere, nowadays, what becomes a hit is being determined by listeners and those looking to discover some new, unheard gem. Those looking for tunes they haven’t heard before don’t need to switch back and forth between radio stations any longer hoping for something fresh. Instead, they can simply browse a site like Spotify, where in an hour a power user can sample one hundred brand new tracks. From there, the best, the catchiest, and the most attention-getting pieces naturally rise to the top, as people hit play again and again, adding these songs to playlists and sharing them with friends.
There have been many examples of indie artists uploading their wares, and within just a few months, they have a hit — a word one the verge of being redefined, thanks to streaming. A hit song used to be one played all over the radio and which sold thousands of copies in record stores, but now anybody anywhere can score a serious “hit” by racking up streams in a short time online.
For perhaps the first time in history, streaming services allow it to truly be all about the music, as opposed to any form of influence. Democracy has finally come to the music industry.
It might be difficult to break through at times, but there has never been a time in history when so many music lovers were all gathered in just a few spaces online, waiting to click on your song. This is why streaming should always be a focal point of any marketing or promotional efforts.
Music Can Go Viral
Streaming may be democratic, but it’s also incredibly unpredictable. Nobody knows what will become a smash until it does and it’s even harder to know how fast something will climb the charts. There are plenty of songs that have been able to collect millions of plays over a long period of time, which is great for artists, as it means fans are enjoying their wares for a long time and the money (however small it may be) doesn’t stop coming in.
With streaming, there is no barrier to entry when it comes to checking out a track people suggested by a friend, so songs have the ability to go viral faster and faster. Thus, everybody wants that hot new viral sensation people can’t stop talking about.
Other acts are lucky enough to see their new releases be immediately highlighted by a tastemaker or added to a popular playlist. This can mean it goes viral. It doesn’t happen often, but streaming sites (especially YouTube) make it possible for one in a million singles to truly explode. These songs can be helped by an eye-catching video, or perhaps a dance associated with the music. If the stars align and everything works out perfectly, millions are unable to stop clicking and rewatching. All of those plays add up in no time. Interestingly, songs like “Gangnam Style” and “Harlem Shake” became popular before pure streaming sites like Spotify, Pandora and the like gained the traction that made them power players in the music industry, but this didn’t stop them. Both of those songs went platinum and reached the highest highs of the Billboard charts — thanks to their viral nature.
While a “Gangnam Style”-sized phenomenon only comes around every few years, plenty of songs released by up-and-comers on traditional streaming platforms enjoy a quick rise and fall. That’s still wonderful for the artists behind them, as it means millions of plays, new fans, and sometimes a heap of press attention all at once, which can be a fantastic launching pad for whatever they have coming next.
Millions Of People Are In One Place
While they might not be actual locations, as they only exist online, streaming platforms are one of the few places where millions of people all gather together for one purpose: to listen to music. Many of those streaming are interested in finding what’s next and in checking out tunes they haven’t heard before.
Websites like Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal and the myriad of other options are full of potential, simply because of the massive user numbers those companies have been able to collect. Spotify alone now has over 50 million paying subscribers, and more than 100 million total users. There are perhaps a quarter of a billion people in the world using streaming sites for their listening needs and this figure is climbing significantly every day.
It might be difficult to break through at times, but there has never been a time in history when so many music lovers were all gathered in just a few spaces online, waiting to click on your song. This is why streaming should always be a focal point of any marketing or promotional efforts. If artists capture only the smallest fraction of ears, it will still have been worth it. It’s just a numbers game!
An impressive play count can help an artist get more show bookings, media attention, and can better their chances of scoring another online hit when they release another song.
Your Play Counts > Your Sales
Sales are dropping all the time; everybody knows this fact. It’s a shame to see this income stream disappear, but at this point, there is nothing to be done about it. The public has spoken, and by and large, the masses are no longer interested in purchasing. Instead, they are streaming, but thankfully they are streaming everything and anything, and the numbers are becoming ridiculous.
Just last year, Drake’s “One Dance” became the first song to hit one billion streams on Spotify. I’m not suggesting every indie act’s new single will go on to hit this recently-established peak, but it shows just how far things can go with the right tune. Even artists who only have small fan bases or who are just getting started out can collect stream counts in the millions, which never would have happened if everybody was still relying entirely on sales. An impressive play count can help an artist get more show bookings, media attention, and can better their chances of scoring another online hit when they release another song.
Now, I would never suggest artists shouldn’t also sell their music, but at this point in time, it is clear which figure will be larger. Even a musician with the type of fan base who prefers to buy as opposed to stream will likely see their play counts rise much higher than any sales figure. In the early days of streaming’s explosion, there might not have been enough people listening to compensate for the loss of CD and single sales, but now for at least most acts, things have leveled out, and in terms of net profit, the only place to go is up.
Tastemakers & Press
The popularity of streaming platforms is growing daily, but thankfully, many of those tastemakers who have already been using Spotify and its competitors for years now are the ones many musicians want to reach the most. The last people making their way to the party are those who are typically only interested in chart-toppers and what’s happening in the top 40, while early adopters are the ones who are always scouring playlists and new releases for awesome new artists they’ve never heard of.
Many members of the media are also true supporters of streaming sites, and they are some of the busiest users. Music Bloggers, DJs, playlist makers, and social influencers have all chosen their favorite site and are constantly streaming, and these are the kinds of people artists will want to reach. If up-and-coming artists can double up on PR efforts, advertising, and catch someone on a playlist or via a recommendation, they might just have themselves a very powerful new fan. This isn’t to say regular listeners who have no say in the music industry aren’t valuable, because they are! Those are the ones who keep everybody in business…but if an under-the-radar band can make a writer or an editor into a fan, it’s very helpful, and all of those people are listening on streaming.
Also, if artists have something they’ve just released and are looking to send it to Journalists, many of them expect a number of links in an email where they can choose the service they like. The days of only providing them a download are over, so if bands want to be one of the lucky ones whose music is actually sampled (and potentially covered in some way), it makes sense to send along links to SoundCloud, YouTube, Spotify, Apple Music…and then consider a download option.
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