Music, Life and Nonsense: Adjusting to the digital age of music

It seems like every year the music business becomes a harder spot for artists to really make a reasonable living. It’s no breaking story that album sales are down – not just in terms of physical CDs, but now even with digital downloads. 

Streaming has become the most relevant source of music consumption seen in the modern age. Even Apple, with its unrivaled iTunes, has created Apple Music, a streaming service to rival Spotify. 

Although there are comeback stories of Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran and Adele topping the charts with platinum sales and honest songwriting, these have, all things considered, been wonderful exceptions to the trend of declining record sales. 

Whether artists and the music industry like the current climate or not, digital sales has now shifted dramatically towards the new platform of streaming. Streaming is not so much the cause of the current climate but rather a reaction to the fact that many music consumers don’t feel the responsibility or the need to pay for music they want.

To gain some monetary control over those who weren’t buying music anyway, services like Spotify can give royalties to artists, the amount of which is determined by how many “streams” or listens the artists’ songs have. 

This debatably revolutionary reaction of Spotify contains one core problem, though – streaming doesn’t pay enough. 

According to BBC, Kevin Kadish, the co-writer of “All About That Bass” by Meghan Trainor, only earned $5,679 from the 178 million streams of the song and 1.1 billion views on YouTube. 

There’s a valid argument that Spotify and other streaming companies, like Apple Music and SoundCloud, give royalty holders the ability to indirectly make money through streaming. The argument would go onto say that these services help grow the artist’s fan base, which will pay off through other revenue streams (i.e. tickets and merchandise). 

Still, it appears that the effect of the depleted album revenue, which used to be prioritized income for artists and writers, is keeping the artists and overall business suffering despite other ways of making money. 

David Israelite, president of the National Music Publishers Association, said that the United States music publishing industry had seen a drop in revenue from $2.206 billion in 2013 to $2.142 billion in 2014 – a 2.5 percent drop, according to Billboard. In an age where music accessibility is the highest it’s ever been the publishing industry is losing revenue, in part due to the shift towards streaming being faster than anticipated, according to Israelite.

One result from all of this is that the ability to be heard is at its highest point in history, yet the chances of monetary success as an artist, songwriter and any other royalty shareholder is seriously hindered. This can lead to the potentially disheartening reality that less artists might be able to thrive and make a living in an industry they might have had an easier go-at a decade, maybe even three years, earlier.

Are labels or even management companies as inclined to take chances on promising artists who might not be creating the most commercial music? My guess is no, unless the artist has already created his or her own strong following independently. 

The more the industry becomes tightly constrained in what ventures can or cannot be pursued, the less opportunity there is for unique art to shine through from a major platform. 

The music industry is ultimately a business – if the business side of the industry is hurting, then in turn it is only natural for its artistic integrity to take a blow as well. It’s understandable that risks must be minimalized and thus the most radio ready, formulaic sounds are the safest ones to invest in.

Still, relatively speaking, the digital age of the music business is young and streaming services are one of the first steps towards adapting to the changing climate of music consumerism. There is time for the business side of the music industry to get back on its feet to allow for more freedom and resources to keep the music side of the industry thriving.


Brett Steinberg is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at brett.steinberg@uconn.edu. He tweets @OfficialBrett.