By James Wallace Harris, June 30, 2015
Now that Apple has entered the streaming music business it’s obvious that streaming is the future. After more than a century of wax cylinders, 78s, LPs, 45s, 8-tracks, cassettes, CDs, DATs, SACDs, MP3s, music will arrive by subscribing to bits and bytes. We’re now in a transition phase. Some people will listen to music they own, and others will listen to music they rent. As the advantages of subscription music become apparent to all, most listeners will forget about owning. If songs aren’t instantly available on their smartphones, they will be forgotten.
Because I listen to ninety-nine percent of my music through Spotify, The Beatles are becoming a forgotten band. I’m sure Apple hopes to make an exclusive deal to stream The Beatles like they did for selling their songs and albums by digital downloads. If The Beatles make such an agreement, I might forget them completely. I bought twelve of their thirteen re-mastered CDs when they came out a couple years ago, but I don’t play them. Some are still in the shrink wrap. Listening to music on Spotify is just too damn convenient.
Most of the famous bands that held out against the subscription music tide have given in – AC/DC is the latest example. I have to admire that group for not making an exclusive deal. During the transition phase to a complete subscription music age, we will have to find ways to deal with forgotten bands. There are several reasons why music from the past isn’t offered today.
First, a band will refuse to allow their music to be streamed. That’s becoming less likely as people quit buying music. Second, music is often tied up in legal battles. Again, that will be resolved. There is a lot of music from the past that is forgotten because there’s no demand or its creators aren’t around to promote it. I assume this will change over time as those who still remember will complain. Finally, what we can hear will be limited by exclusive deals. There’s over a dozen subscription music services out there now with more coming on line all the time. The best way to capture subscribers is to promise the biggest catalog, especially catalogs with artists and albums that other services don’t contain. I find this mercenary practice a heinous aspect of the music business.
Right now the standard price for subscribing to a music library is $10 a month. If some services seek to dominate with exclusive deals, there will be a tendency towards monopolies and squeezing out the smaller services, or for people to subscribe to more than one music site. One solution to make subscribing to multiple libraries possible is to change the fee structure. For example, if Spotify and Apple charged $2.99 to be a subscriber, and then one penny a play, then fans could easily enjoy two sites and pay artists fairly.
One reason why artists have avoided subscription services is the low royalty payments. Between the music publishers and subscription services, they seem to make the best deals for themselves. Apple almost got away with giving people three months of music to new subscribers without paying the artists. I think the artists would get a better deal if their payments were separated from subscription fees.
One cent a play is the perfect payment. That cent should be divvied fairly between the composers, performers and record companies. The one cent fee should only be for specific playing of songs. For random background listening, artists should get a lesser fee paid out of the subscription service fee. That way, unless a fan plays specific songs all day long, most listeners will still stay close to the $10 a month bill.
With better royalties I believe most music from the past will be unearthed and put online. Forgotten bands and their albums will show up in libraries, making subscription music nearly perfect. Right now there are many favorite songs from the past that I can’t add to my playlists. In the future, when everything I want to hear is in my subscription, I can’t imagine another system of music delivery ever replacing it.
Pictured are just some of the albums I can’t play on Spotify today. I hope they will all be available within a year.
8 thoughts on “The Beatles and Other Forgotten Bands”
Interesting. Dismaying in trajectory, but interesting! I suddenly feel like my own grandmother.
Yes, the pace of change is fast. When my grandmother was born in 1881, they didn’t have records, TV, or movies, much less airplanes, computers or space travel. But what if technology like subscription music slows down the pace of change? I can’t imagine a better system coming along. Now my imagination might fail me badly, but I find it hard to believe we can keep this accelerating pace going forever.
Regarding ALL of the streaming digital music options – including Apple’s – ℲǙ₵Ж ‘em! I really don’t want to hear a bunch of stuff streamed at me – I am very selective when it comes to WHAT I want to listen to, and exactly WHEN that is. So LPs and CDs (and even ancient 45 RPM records) fit my needs quite nicely. But, to each his own…
Yeah, but subscription music doesn’t mean radio randomness, but playing exactly what you want, when you want. You think of a song you want to hear, type its name in the search box, and play it. Or you play an album. Or you can collect your favorite songs into playlists as if you were your own disc jockey.
When we were discussing progressive rock classics, I would call up an album you mention, and play it. That’s far more convenient than tracking down a used album, ordering it, and waiting for the mailman to bring it to m.
That requires being at or near some sort of device (computer, tablet, smart phone), and if I have to check out music online, YouTube has just about everything I might want to hear – such as the first solo album by the very recently departed Chris Squire of Yes – and it’s FREE! (The entire LP, “Fish Out of Water” is on YT – have a listen.) In short, I absolutely refuse to pay to RENT music – if I want to own it, I get a physical version of the music. Movies are different, as I won’t necessarily want to watch a film over and over – but if I do, I buy a copy via Amazon!
Yeah, but paying a subscription service means the artist gets a little bit of money every time their work is played. Used records get them nothing. $10 is little enough for all the pleasure I get out of music. If enough subscribers join Spotify and other services, and stop using free, the artists will earn a fair amount of money.
That’s not what Taylor Swift – among others – say! (Also, Chris Squire would not be able to use the $$ at this point, anyway…!)
Taylor Swift is putting her music on Apple subscription music, and will more than likely go back to Spotify and other services. CD/MP3 sales are in decline. Streaming is where the music industry is growing. No artist will be able to ignore it. But they would get paid better if more people subscribed. Someone told me yesterday that only about 10% of people subscribe to music, that’s why Apple is jumping in, because they want to go after the 90%. If even 30% of the public subscribed, artists would probably make more than when they sold CDs.
Chris Squire might not be around to use the royalties, but he heirs might, and all his band mates, and anyone else that earns from his records.
Artists have always gotten cheated by music companies. Subscription music at least pays them a little bit every time their songs are played. That seems fairer than some of the payment methods in the past.