A Tale of Woe: Streaming Music vs. Buying Music

headphonesGuest post by  Holly Whitman

"People are not respecting the music, and [are] devaluing it and devaluing what it really means. People really feel like music is free, but will pay $6 for water. You can drink water free out of the tap, and it’s good water. But they’re OK paying for it. It’s just the mind-set right now," Jay Z recently told Billboard.com.  

According to one of the most successful rappers of all time, the moment has come for people to start paying for their music again. And he is not alone. Some of the biggest names in the music industry are throwing their collective weight behind Jay Z and taking a stand against online streaming services that allow users to access music for free.

Taylor Swift even withdrew her entire music catalogue from Spotify, followed by a statement from her label, Big Machine Records, declaring that they "believe music has value and we do not believe Taylor’s music should be made available for free." A string of music’s most powerful players joined Jay Z on stage for the press conference surrounding the release of his new paid music streaming platform Tidal, including Daft Punk, Rihanna, Kanye West, Beyoncé, and Madonna. So is the tide in fact turning and making us drift slowly back towards the days of paying for music?

Music has only been considered a freely available item over the last ten years. In the days pre-internet, it was perfectly normal to buy music and there is a strong argument to be made for returning to that particular old habit. But there is something slightly twisted about some of the richest people not just in the music industry, but in the entire world, forming an exclusive platform and collectively proclaiming that we are devaluing their art and should be paying for it. It is just a little hard to swallow being told to spend $19.99 a month to support someone who’s estimated net worth is $550 million ($1 billion if you combine married couple Jay Z and Beyoncé’s shared wealth).

Perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to shoot the messenger though and take a moment to consider the actual message. Rihanna and co. are only a small slice of a very big cake and while they seem to be doing alright off of their music, there are plenty of artists struggling to get by. Perhaps it is those lesser known musicians we should be bearing in mind while streaming our music on YouTube, etc. What’s more, out attitude towards music is very much indicative of a culture in which creative work is often viewed as something that should be delivered freely, as it is somehow deemed less valuable than more operational lines of work. Starting to pay for the music we listen to could be a first step in the direction of understanding creative work as something that is equally valuable, meaningful and worthy of financial support.

Many streaming services already offer a paid subscription that provide added benefits, such as mobile synchronization and offline playing. Spotify’s premium service is $9.99, with 15 million paid subscribers and 60 million subscribers overall. The streaming service also recently partnered with paysafecard, which allows users to pay without a debit or credit card – simply furthering the amount of new subscribers to cater for. YouTube launched its own $9.99 a month subscription service called YouTube Red, together with a mobile app in the US this October. $9.99 seems a manageable amount, especially if it could well stop the "devaluing of music."

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