Onderwijsinstelling: KU Leuven
Studierichting: Master Culturele Studies
Promotor: Tom Willaert
Student: Martijn Van Loo
This thesis research focusses on our contemporary music industry, how we got there and what the future challenges will be. To understand the current situation in the music industry, this thesis zooms in to the shift from analogue, to digital and cloud. Specifically the arrival of music streaming will be explored through the eyes of consumer, industry and artist, to get a more nuanced and broader view of the way music is experienced today.
With the theories from the media-archaeological method this research starts with an overview of our technological and cultural listening experience. From the invention of the gramophone player in 1877 until now in 2017, 140 years later, the way we consume music changed a lot, under the influence of social, cultural, technological, juridical and political factors. Music streaming is a new milestone in this whole process. For the first time music is experienced without actually owning it. With the arrival of cloud technology, music streaming services started to offer an immense catalogue of music, which can be accessed over the internet, a monthly subscription provided. Since the founding of Spotify and Deezer in 2006, a lot of new services have emerged, with the battle for the subscriber in the streaming landscape as a result.
Streaming provides the consumer with the possibility of easily accessing an immense catalogue of music via pc, tablet or smartphone, and its popularity keeps growing. As an answer to the problematic arrival of piracy in 1999 with Napster, music streaming tries to get consumers back on the legal side of the road. Today consumers no longer have the need of ownership over their content, but have evolved towards an access-based mentality. This post-ownership economy, together with the like-and-share society, is the fundament of the current way the online consumer behaviour is formed, including the way music is experienced. Music streaming may have countered the problematic online piracy, but the consumer believes that ‘music is free’ remains and there is a general lack in consumer mentality to pay for music. To turn consumers from free to fee will be the biggest concern for streaming services today, since freemium models are still running, and services are still not turning profit from their business model.
The industry itself has resurrected from a twelve year (2002-2014) decline in revenues, with a growth of 3.2% in 2015 and 5.9% in 2016. That renewed growth is fully fuelled by streaming, since physical sales and download revenues keep declining. After a conservative reaction to the arrival of digital music consumption and streaming, the industry seems to have embraced streaming as a solution for their declining revenues. The main challenge for the industry is no longer piracy, but a new problematic loophole: the value gap. The problem is situated around video streaming services like Youtube, the most popular way for experiencing music today. Due to some legal issues, those services are not forced to pay for the available music in the same way streaming services do, with an immense gap in revenues for artists and the industry as result. It will be the task for the whole industry and policy makers to fix this problematic situation, in order to maintain and power the current growth of the industry.
The relation between streaming and artists has always been a delicate subject. Since 2006 a lot of artists have changed their attitude. With the launch of Spotify, great artists like The Beatles, AC/DC, Prince, Metallica and Pink Floyd were not available for streaming. It is remarkable that today all these artists became available on different streaming platforms. Although a lot of artists seem to have changed in their attitude, there still remains a lot of critique from artists towards streaming. The non-transparent and unfair payments of their streams cause a lot of frustration with many artists. Besides international pop stars like Taylor Swift and Adele, there are also a lot of Belgian artists who comment on the way streaming works. The result is the fact that a lot of artists have to focus on concerts to make a living from their music. The case study of this thesis, that analyses the relation between streaming and the live scene in Belgium, points out the fact that the live-industry booms, but is also under a lot of pressure caused by the scarce revenues coming from streaming.
As a final conclusion this thesis shows that the impact of the arrival of streaming is quite complex, and differs from each perspective. It is a positive fact that music is more accessible than ever, that the industry has a renewed growth, and that artists can spread their music easier than before. But the consumer mentality that ‘music is free’, the problematic issue of the value gap in the industry, and the earnings for artists that remain too low, and too non-transparent, are challenges that still need to be faced, in order to create a further growth of the industry and a sustainable way of music consumption in the (near) future.
Martijn Van Loo