Are Streaming Sites Ensuring The Music Industry's Long-Term Survival?

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The look on my face when I couldn't hear "Temporary Secretary" on Rdio.
This past week, Paul McCartney's team pulled most of his catalog - including his works with Wings - off streaming music sites such as Rdio, Rhapsody, Spotify and MOG. Listeners are now deprived of Band On the Run, Back To the Egg, and my personal favorite, McCartney II, among others

It looks like due to licensing loopholes and strangeness, Rdio still has two of his last solo efforts, Chaos And Creation In the Backyard and Memory Almost Full available, and a stray Wings singles collection is in my ears right now. A list of Macca's work now pulled can be found here.

If it hadn't had been for a streaming site like Rdio, I would probably have never discovered McCartney II, to be honest. I had always resisted Macca's stuff -- dumb, right? -- but that album softened me.

This is all cool with me, seeing that it is the artists' own prerogative whether or not they want their stuff streamed, but it is curious that Macca has an exclusive iTunes performance "coming up," but I doubt that has anything to do with this move, right?

Compensation and licensing fees have been a point of contention with musicians since the advent of streaming sites. How much is to be paid out, and what restrictions do you put on your work? Recently Coldplay and the Black Keys blacked out their newest albums on streaming sites. Our own Jeff Balke delved into the issue around the time that the Keys' El Camino was released.

Macca's move, though, did bring up an important point yet again: the concept of streaming services as a means of discovery for adventureous listeners, or keeping older, niche artists at the fingertips of fans and novices who wouldn't otherwise hear them. Just in the past year, I stumbled upon Sun Ra, Terry Reid, Savoy Brown and Emmett Miller, all artists I was familiar with, but hadn't immersed myself in.

You don't always have to dig into crates of records at a flea market to get hip to stuff anymore, or wait for someone to drop a name (which is a shame, I guess). But with search tools on most streaming sites, you can find artists who influenced, were contemporaries of, or descended from, say, ZZ Top. That's how I found Savoy Brown, a precursor to Foghat.

"[You] get a recommendation, instantly check it out on Spotify, fall in love, and seek it out on vinyl to hear it in its best form. Rinse and repeat as necessary," noted Spotify devotee Tiziano Dominico on the Rocks Off Facebook wall. Local artist Chase Hamblin praises YouTube and streaming sites as historical links.

"The digital age allows us to hear all kinds of old, obscure music that would have been very difficult to find in the past," added Hamblin. For some it also keeps them current with trends and the biggest new releases.

"It's been a wonderful addition to my life. In my '30s with kids now, I don't have time to sift through piles at record stores and search for rare gems. Spotify has reunited me with music I thought I might never hear again," said Erin Walsh.

Speaking for myself, streaming sites are an indispensable tool for a music writer. Every Tuesday I get a new batch of releases to listen to, to stay up on bands that I may not get to hear elsewhere, and I can always download it for an extra charge.

As far as researching musical lineages, I don't really know what I did before. YouTube and Google can only do so much, but with a streaming site I can span every genre related to an artist and connect dots that I couldn't before.

For instance, looking into Miller, the minstrel artist, lead me to this song:

And this one...

Which took me to Louis Prima...

And of course, I went full circle and straight into the one, the only...

Which means that I can connect the dots between Miller, the Mills Brothers, Prima, and Diamond Dave within a handful of clicks.

Fun thing this Internets, a completely priceless guide to generating obscure references I can use for even the most mundane Joe Jonas review.

Because if I can do that, then I can only imagine a 10-year-old making the same sort of discoveries, and getting fully schooled on such varied artists such as John Cage, Motley Crue, and John Coltrane, and making something really special for us to hear -- or read -- in a few decades.


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Jeff
Jeff

One issue that comes up for artists is that streaming services have in a number of instances, begun to replace income from purchases. The problem is that the revenues from streaming are so incredibly low. The difference between the two is akin to the difference between a penny and a hundred bucks. It's that substantial.

Streaming, in my opinion, is the new radio and that is great. Performance royalties used to be supportive of an artists' career, but the main reason they wanted airplay is because there was a direct correlation between plays on the radio and records sold. Since streaming is, in essence, a way of replacing purchases, the music industry is concerned -- and rightfully so -- that they will lose 99.99999 percent of their revenue stream.

Artists need to embrace technology. There is no risk to an unknown artist with this. But anyone should be able to fathom why established artists or those who have made very average livings from royalties (which, by the way, is the VAST majority of the recording industry) would be wary.

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