Has music become too easily accessible?

Let me start this off by saying that I am not trying to be classist or snobbish with this blog post; I believe music is for everyone, can be made by anyone, and should be treated and respected as an art form, with all the cultural implications that has. In a non-capitalist society this blog post would be very different, but as it stands musicians have to make a living somehow. What I mean instead by this admittedly somewhat controversial-sounding title will be explained in the following paragraphs, and focuses mostly on streaming platforms and the monetary side of the music industry.

Popular music streaming platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music offer users millions of songs to listen to for a small monthly fee. Spotify for example, only charges ten dollars per month, and even allows you to listen to all these millions of songs for free, with the caveat of making its free users listen to ads every few minutes. As a listener, this price to product ratio sounds amazing! These platforms are generally speaking easy to use, have enormous libraries of music, allow you to download said music and listen to it offline, etc. What’s not to love, right? Well, there’s a few things.

Spotify is perhaps the most popular example of a music streaming service with a library of millions of songs.

For starters, let’s examine this situation from a musician’s perspective for a moment. There is this colossal corporation, a new music industry titan known as Spotify, and in order to get anywhere with your music career you simply *have* to put your music on there. Too many people listen to it, it’s simply too ubiquitous to ignore, lest you yourself are ignored by the masses. By refusing to join them your work will not get the exposure and attention that it needs for you to continue making music for a living, or to start making a living with it in the first place, thus shooting yourself in the proverbial foot. In this example I used Spotify, due to it being the most notable service where this occurs, although other streaming services also present this problem. Selling albums at pre-streaming-service prices is not an option either, as the public’s expectation of the price of music has shifted dramatically, and people will simply think your album is too expensive.

And this is exactly what I am trying to get at with this post. The value for listeners has gone up dramatically, and it is easier than ever to collect and listen to all sorts of music day in and day out without any issues whatsoever. But the musicians themselves are experiencing a major decrease in the money they receive per song they put out, meaning that one album every handful of years is no longer viable. Music now has to be produced often enough and in large enough volumes in order to sustain a certain standard of living. Note that this mainly affects small and medium size creators, although certain consequences of this can also be noticed in the work of famous creators with large followings.

While this increasingly difficult monetary struggle for musicians is already arguably stifling music as an art form, there is one particularly annoying side effect of the previously mentioned point that I would like to bring up. This is of course the fact that a lot of music released nowadays is following a certain set of specific guidelines, which is done with the exact intention of grabbing the attention of users of streaming services. The ‘hook’ of a song is made to appear very early on in the song, rather than following an initial build-up, to dissuade people from clicking the ‘skip’ button to move on to something else. The chorus is often simple and repetitive, in an attempt to become memorable and an ‘earworm’ for that listener, so they will listen to it repeatedly and in rapid succession. The tempo of the song is made to conform to that of others that have proven to be successful, etc.

Simply put, as a direct result of music being more cheaply accessible than ever before, it has also become far more homogenous. This is not to say that experimental and innovative music, as well as less popular genres of music, no longer exist, but rather that they are being pushed aside more and more in favor of the previously mentioned truckloads of homogeneity. I’m not saying that these artists are all copying each other either, but simply that they are all attempting to game the same system. After all, once you’ve figured out a formula that works, why not exploit that formula to pump out enough music to allow you to scrape by on the notoriously small amount of royalties that music streaming services give you? Why not just conform and be happy that you’re making a living making music?

I suppose that what it all boils down to is that I believe that musicians should be compensated for the work they do fairly, so that the focus can be on making art, rather than making money. In order to achieve this streaming services should unfortunately probably become somewhat more expensive, but there should also be a push for a large re-examination of the way that streaming services pay the artists on their platform, as paying them (sometimes far) less than a hundredth of a cent per listen is clearly having a negative effect on the industry.