It’s difficult not to hate on the youth of today when the subject of streaming-music services comes up in a conversation.
Seriously, these ungrateful kids and millennials don’t know how good they have it. In my day, if you wanted to listen to an album, you had to go to a record store and buy it. Or if you liked a song and couldn’t afford to buy the whole album, you had to listen to the radio constantly and hope that the song was in heavy rotation, just so you could tape it off the radio. Young people will never, ever experience the joy of getting a song (in its entirety!) on a blank audiocassette.
The rise of streaming-music services started when Swedish music-sharing service Spotify came to these shores in the summer of 2011, usurping U.S.-based, online radio site Pandora as the ideal spot for streaming-music junkies. (Judging from my dining-out travels, Pandora is still essential for those who work at restaurants, looking for acceptable, soothing, musical ambiance for both them and their customers.)
Spotify had a good run for a while, offering unlimited, commercial-free music for a monthly fee of $9.99. (You can also listen to Spotify for free, but you have to endure commercials.) All that changed last year when two new services went live. Apple, who practically set off this digital-music revolution at the beginning of the millennium with iTunes, launched Apple Music in June, also offering up a monthly subscription for as low as $10. A few months earlier, Jay-Z and an arsenal of musicians/co-owners/stakeholders (Madonna! Nicki Minaj! Daft Punk!) announced the launch of Tidal, an artist-owned service that also provides endless music at a reasonable price.
But it’s not just low subscriptions that these services are offering to listeners – they’ve also got big stars delivering exclusive content. Drake has practically become Apple Music’s biggest asset, releasing songs, videos and mix tapes and even his own radio show through Apple. Taylor Swift, who notoriously took her music off Spotify because its free-streaming service was killing her and other songwriters in the royalty department, is also part of the Apple elite, recently dropping her “1989 World Tour Live” documentary on Apple Music. (Before she did that, she criticized Apple Music for not paying royalties during its three-month trial period, making Apple change its game up and pay artists during that period.)
Meanwhile, Tidal, which has been seen as a less-than-successful entity since announcing it hit the million-subscriber mark in October (Spotify has nearly 30 million subscribers, while Apple Music exceeds 11 million), recently got a boost in listeners thanks to exclusively dropping Beyonce’s “Formation” single as well as Kanye West’s latest messterpiece “The Life of Pablo.” (“Pablo” continues to be such a work in progress that Tidal expanded listeners’ free trials for another month when he reworked a song on the album a couple of weeks ago.) Even Adele picked Pandora to be the only place online where you can stream her hit album “25.”
Thanks to these services as well as others like Deezer and Rhapsody/Napster, the idea of even buying an album seems dated and unnecessary. Every now and then you’ll read about some story about the kids rediscovering vinyl, but the truth is sales of albums remain down. Early last year, the Atlantic reported that digital and physical music sales are down, with iTunes sales sliding at least 13 percent. The thing that made CDs obsolete so long ago is beginning to look antiquated itself.
While streaming-music services offer up a lot of music, they don’t have everything. Case in point: One night, I was looking for the Sylvers’ soul classic “Fool’s Paradise,” and I couldn’t find it on Spotify, Apple Music or Tidal. So sometimes you still gotta do a little more digging to find music you like – and if that means taking a trip to Schoolkids Records or any of the other independent record stores that are still around the Triangle, then so be it.
Besides, going to record stores can still be a fun thing. Thanks to yearly events like Record Store Day (which is April 16) in independently run stores all over the globe, attracting geeks, novices and people who don’t mind buying music in person, music shopping can still be a communal, shared experience. Sure, using streaming-music services is a nice shortcut for those who want their music immediately, but there’s still nothing wrong with going out and buying music – while meeting new people and getting some fresh air in the process.
Reach Craig Lindsey at firstname.lastname@example.org