Spotify is popular European streaming music service that has come to America. It’s not that we didn’t already have American streaming music services from Rhapsody, Rdio, MOG, Napster, Microsoft, Sony and others, but Spotify is different, it has a free, ad-supported option besides it’s two paid options.
Allowing people to listen to music for free is significant. Lala.com, also offered a free option, but Apple bought Lala and killed it. I wonder if Apple will buy Spotify? Free is a threat to the status quo, but legally free means a new paradigm in promoting music.
Would-be rock stars dream of riches so how will free music help them? To become an actual star means finding a million fans – it’s all about promotion. If your songs sucks, no amount of promotion will help, but if they are great, without listeners no one will know. And the best way to promote a product is word of mouth. And social networking on web pages, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, or even email, is word of mouth promotion on steroids.
It used to be radio airplay created hit songs. But who listens to radio anymore? Now-a-days people use YouTube. Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” is at 106,083,210 plays on YouTube. Of course that could be 10 million fans listening 10 times each, or 1 million fans listening to the song a hundred times, or it could be me listening for 10 times before I bought the CD, and another guy out there listening to it for 106,083,200 times. But this is the kind of promotion that payola can’t even touch. Free is more contagious than the common cold.
Most people I know who want to share a song with a friend checks YouTube to see if there’s a video so their friends can hear it for free. But what if there’s no video? Bummer. There’s always finding a pirate copy, but that’s a pain and could be dangerous.
Spotify is the new kid in town that could replace YouTube’s as the go-to place to have friends try out songs. But there’s a minor hitch. You have to be a Spotify member and install the client software before you can play songs for free. Now that’s not much more work than getting Acrobat Reader so you can read PDF files, but it is some extra work. If Spotify gets the kind of market penetration as Flash then it will be a snap to share songs.
Spotify will replace Billboard as the definer of Hit Lists. But this depends on everyone using Spotify. It would help if they had a web client. It would also help if they had an embeddable player so web pages and blogs could just add a play button so when someone writes about a song they could press a button and listen while they read.
WordPress does have a MP3 player I could embed in my writing here, but I’d have to load the song onto the WordPress server first, and since most songs are copyrighted, that’s illegal. But Spotify, and other streaming services, could legally arrange to stream music to such embedded buttons, and they and the record companies would want such buttons if they also had a button next to the play button to return you to the album page where you’d see ads and more promotions for the artist and their albums.
Now this assumes Spotify remaining the only music streaming service with a free option. What if that’s not the case? What if they all offer ad-supported listening? This will cause terrific competition for membership. People will chose which service from a variety of features. Price has always settled down to $5 a month for computer streaming and no ads, and $10 a month if you want to hear music on your mobile device (smartphone, MP3 player, tablet). I would expect the Spotify competitors to come out with free ad-supported versions soon. The ad supported version is like getting heroin for free. Anyone who loves music will pop for the $10 deal eventually.
What the artists and record companies will want is the most efficient way to create massive audiences for songs. I would guess royalties from subscription music is based on plays. If no one listens to your album, you don’t make any money. So they game switches from how many songs you can sell, to how many people can you get to play your song on the various subscription services. Money from subscribers and ads are out of your control – everything is about getting people to listen.
And since anyone can listen for free, this should wipe our piracy – at least for songs on subscription services.
I’d love to be able to write album reviews and be able to embed a player for each song I review so people could play the songs while they read what I’m saying about them. Right now I can do this: “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele. If you have Spotify you can click the link to play that song. What I want is a graphic with CD controls and a play button so if you pressed it the song would play right in the browser where you are reading this. WordPress offers that feature if I pay $19.95, but I couldn’t legally upload the song for you to try it. If I could, I would gladly pay the $19.95 – but then the artist wouldn’t earned royalty credits. It would be much easier for all concerned if streaming music services just offered embedding controls that WordPress, Facebook, etc. could incorporate like they do when I embed a YouTube video.
If such subscription music players were widely used, artists would get more play credits.
By the way, Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” gained 26,000 plays as I wrote this blog.
JWH – 8/5/11