Is Music Streaming Killing Off the Creative Musician?
Music streaming may be making it more difficult for creative and groundbreaking musicians to become relevant.
According to an article by Newsweek, music streaming has created a boatload of Adeles but very few Bowies. Though the British songstress has shattered records with her soulful balladry, according to Andy Gershom, she is doing little to influence musical creativity. Gershom, manager of indie-rock band OK GO says,
“Adele is selling a huge amount to soccer moms, but is it having an impact on the culture? Not really…Artists like David Bowie can't get the momentum to have a career like David Bowie.”
(Artists like Adele may be making it difficult for creative artists to become relevant)
For many artists, ingenuity takes many years and several albums to fully develop. However, in the fast paced world of music streaming being relevant long enough to develop into a truly “great artist” is becoming more and more difficult.
Because the streaming process has accelerated the pace of an artists career, labels are no longer investing time or money into nurturing the creative artist, according to Jeffrey Evans of Buskin Records:
“Some of the greats take time to develop…REM took four albums. The labels don’t have the patience for four albums anymore. We’re missing whatever talent would have been incredible if it had the time.”
(Early days of REM, when Michael Stipe still had hair and was yet to be considered great)
Why has this become the case? As the popularity of music streaming has reached stratospheric heights, it has created a culture of instant gratification. As opposed to the days of the record, tape, or CD, when fans still invested in an artists completed body of work, music streaming has made the concept album a nearly extinct phenomenon.
However, fans don’t seem to mind because there's no longer a need to listen to B-sides when streamers can create playlists of every A-list track from the past century. By reducing artists to hit singles we’re failing to develop a relationship with the artist. Instead of listening to an album on repeat and pouring over the meaning of ever lyric, we’re in a society of shufflers who are constantly looking for the next best thing to come along.
(Norwegian tropical house phenomenon, Kygo)
Only focusing on singles, does however, have its benefits. By creating viral hits, Kygo managed to pen a record deal with Sony, be the first artist to hit over 1 Billion plays on Spotify, and sold-out New York City’s Barclay’s Center without ever releasing an album. Although this can get the artist out of the bedroom and in front of crowds across the world, the quick rise to EDM superstardom may present itself in the form of pre-selected sets rather than live DJing from which the genre was founded. By missing out on the foundational skills of reading a room, live mixing, and finely curated track selection, producers may inadvertently lower their tour value by creating a bland environment of tired tracks by replicating the same sets over and over again.
Aside from the missed character building opportunities, streaming also allows record labels to to finely pin point the musical traits that create a hit single. As data become more and more valuable in the streaming world, labels are able to swap out organic creativity with cookie-cutter formulas for guaranteed hits. While this concept isn’t necessarily new, it squashes the true visionary musician from developing a sustainable career from which they can generate a stable income.
According to Jesse Kirshbaum, CEO of Neu music agency, 2016 will see the increase of artist sponsorship. Through funding by a brand sponsor, artists will be able to generate income lost from album sales. Of course, don’t expect an avant-garde artist sponsorship anytime soon, as sponsorships exist for the purpose of brand awareness and consumer likability.
With accessibility to music comes great responsibility, and yet music streaming has created artists that have become formulaic replicas of each other. Unfortunately, the next era of creative visionaries to replace David Bowie, Nirvana, or N.W.A. are unlikely to be shaking up our senses anytime soon.
Born and bred with the Detroit techno scene, I pledge my allegiance to the underground.