When Technology Meets the Self-Centered Artist

By: Jacob Millay

I am a young person. As such, I am supposed to be up to date with all the interesting innovations and cultural movements that are occurring around us.

Honestly, that is a lot of work for me. However, I have kept up with one particular important phenomenon that has come about in the last ten years. The rise of streaming music has exploded recently.

Music on the internet is not necessarily a new thing, but as internet speeds and storage capabilities have increased in recent years, listening to music has gotten easier and easier. Now anyone with a smartphone has the majority of recorded music available to them in an instant. It only takes a few clicks, and then the free music starts pouring out. There was an additional Christmas gift for some as well this year, as The Beatles entire anthology of music was made available for streaming.

While I do not have any strong opinions on The Beatles, other musical artists have taken the opposite path of them recently. Taylor Swift, Adele, Prince, Radiohead, Coldplay, and The Black Keys have all withheld records from being streamed on various services, with the most popular one being Spotify. The main claim is that music streaming has reduced record sales and has hurt the artist where it hurts most: the pocketbook.

While Spotify is not clear on how much it pays artists for each play, it is clear that artists are not going to be raking in cash unless they are supremely popular. Artists who get hundreds of millions of listens will get a hefty paycheck from Spotify, while smaller artists will probably not get much.

Some artists took a different approach to the streaming “problem.” The Jay-Z headed streaming service, Tidal ,had the focus of providing adequate compensation for the artists who chose to use their service. However, with a large price tag for the premium service, Tidal has little impact on the streaming game at this time. People have stuck with the giant Spotify so far.

From my perspective, this whole streaming issue is, frankly, laughable. Some of the largest and most popular musical artists in the world, who sell out stadiums wherever they go, who sell t-shirts to every concert goer, who get radio play for every single that they release, and who sign huge record contracts with the largest record labels, are taking a stand for the integrity of the artists. Seems a little hypocritical, doesn’t it?

Probably the biggest proponent of moving away from streaming is the pop superstar Taylor Swift, who currently makes $80 million dollars a year, is complaining about Spotify. She said “On Spotify, they don’t have any settings, or any kind of qualifications for who gets what music. I think that people should feel that there is a value to what musicians have created, and that’s that.” ( http://www.businessinsider.com/taylor-swift-explains-why-she-left-spotify-2014-11)

While placing value on art is an important goal, Swift seems unaware of the potential consequences of her actions. Rather than people going out and purchasing her album if it is unavailable on the convenient service that they already use, people are just as likely to find a shadier way to get the music. Additionally, Swift made this decision basically to push album sales. She was hoping that people would go out and buy her album since they cannot stream it. That is a pretty poor reason to make the decision to withhold music from people.

Let’s take a step away from the millionaires complaining about not being paid. Spotify has more benefits than just to make money for the artists. It provides a outlet for people to share music. I personally share playlists that I make on Spotify pretty frequently. It also provides for music discovery. If you like this artist, then you should try this one too. This means that more music is being discovered and listened to. Spotify has been incredibly instrumental in my own discovery of different music that I enjoy. And beyond just listening to the music, it also has also incited action on my part to go out and see those bands live, purchases merchandise, or buy the album themselves, all of which never would have happened if I had not first listened to their music on Spotify.

For the 1% of the music community to look at Spotify and say that it is “bad for music” is a ridiculous attempt at a cash-grab by those who already making more money than anyone else.

How, though, does this connect with English? Are you just rambling about music, Jacob? Well, yes. But it also connects with English. Think about the proliferation of E-Books that now exist. Kindle and Nooks and BOOX are now just as popular as other forms of reading. Just as in the music industry, some authors have railed against the proliferation of this technology. Ray Bradbury, Maurice Sendak, Jonathan Franzen, and Ursula K. Le Guin all have railed against E-books. Similarly to music, they say that it reduces the importance of what is read, it promotes piracy, and it will cause authors to make less off of their books.

These may be important points, but again it seems like people are afraid and unaware of how technology can be helpful. Environmentally, E-books are far less wasteful than normal books. The convenience factor outweighs the woes. And finally, power is returned to the people. Before, to get a book published an author had to go to one of the major publishing houses and hope for a deal, but now the author can connect with an audience just that much easier through an online marketplace. One more middle man has been removed. E-books just might be helping the industry as a whole.

And E-books have been around for almost a decade now and the printing industry continues onward. It did not have apocalyptic consequences like some imagined. Instead there are separate markets for different people to use and appreciate.

Perhaps we are all just scared of new technology and the impact that it might have on the status quo. But as we move forward, I think the negative consequences will fall to the wayside while the good rises to the top. So don’t be afraid. Buy all the new gadgets that you want.

(It should be noted that I was listening to music streamed on Spotify the whole time that I wrote this)

Jacob Millay (’16)  is an English Education major at Whitworth University. He is a master of consuming, whether that is the newest David Fincher film, the newest Death Cab for Cutie album, or his mother’s spaghetti. He wishes he had any plans for after graduation or for next weekend, but, alas, he has none.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s