In a constantly developing world, Lucía Prieto asks how this has impacted the music industry.
From vinyl to cassettes, from CDs to MP3s and now, streaming apps - how, when and where we listen to music has changed a lot throughout the years. What in the beginning was a social event, needing to go to bars, turn the radio on, to be able to listen to music, has now switched to antisocial behaviour of sorts, connecting our headphones, and turning off the volume of the world around us.
Not only has the way we consume music changed, but also the way it is produced. For years, when the music industry’s main source of profit was selling CDs, producers, songwriters, and singers focused on creating albums that people would like and buy. Hoping, as well, that at least a single or a few songs reached the radio, so the audience increased.
At the moment, music is literally everywhere, and has intertwined itself with social media (TikTok, Instagram, Spotify, etc.). Right now, we have the option to choose what we listen to, we do not depend on the TV or radio program and someone else’s choice. We can change from one song to another in just one click.
The industry is, still, controlled by a few singers, which, it could be argued, creates the focus on composing a catchy song that will retain a listener’s attention, without scrolling or switching. The power is now all with the listener, being part of the promotion, as well. Those 15 seconds of lyrics shared on social media are what denote a song’s true value, the profit now created via streaming. Releasing albums, therefore, is not a priority anymore. Moreover, many viral audios on social media are pieces of songs that have not been fully released yet, but the promotion has already been done.
This could also explain why many sounds are being exploited. If they worked on the audience, the demand-offer basis is still valid, but with certain changes. It is true that sounds that work for the audience are going to be exploited by producers, but the chance to choose what to listen to has given the opportunity to small singers to make their way through the sector.
This diversification, by giving listeners and artists the same stage, has been one of the keys to clearing the way for new or more independent artists providing themselves with a space where they can be listened to. The algorithm music apps, such as Spotify, suggest similar music based on what we listen to, so we can discover new artists, facilitating their promotion. It is true that it is still difficult to keep a loyal audience or reach the top of the charts. As said before, the industry still consists of a few singers that control a large part of the charts.
Spotify is well known as one of the leading companies in the music streaming sector, which is continuously growing. Spotify has specialised in music, rejecting the diversification of other companies in the sector and focusing on understanding the cravings of the audience, and providing them then with the instruments needed. One such instrument is the RADAR program which focuses on giving exposure to emerging artists.
The improvements made to the app have been utilised to create a space where the user can listen to the music they want to, personalising the app as a unique space for each user. The recommendations received are specifically made for the person, based on the music they listen to, so the probability of failure is far lower. These recommendations are where new talents are included. As well as Spotify, Apple Music provides facilities that allow people to create and upload their music by joining one of the distributors supported by Apple, helping them through the process.
The fact that these apps don't require the full attention of the user, and can remain idle in the background while the user does other things, makes music easier to consume. At the same time the product these apps give, music, has already tested its success; what the app has to do is provide groundbreaking features.
For all of this, and despite other apps, Spotify has seen that creating a free version of the app, without some of the advantages of paying a fee, is the best way to reach out to people. Not only this, but this is also not a provisional version, being available for as long as you like, unlike forced subscription services offered by competitors. That is a welcoming strategy, as the consumer does not feel that they are obliged to pay for the app.
Even though these apps provide a lot of different plans, everyone can choose the one that fits them better, from family packages to student discounts. As of recently, Spotify has announced that they are no longer allowing people to share their accounts, and that may have consequences on how they are used. But it is too soon to analyse the impact.
At the same time, Spotify doesn’t just let people listen to music, but also makes the listener an active part of the app, as the tracks they listen to are registered for Spotify Wrapped, which they can review at the end of the year. This last approach is similar to some music radio programs around the holidays.
At the end of the day what Spotify, Apple Music, Youtube Music, or any similar streaming platform does is get that which was previously invented, eg. CDs, format, lists of songs, and mixtapes, and reinvents them, giving ever greater power to the listener.