Being from Hitsville. USA (Detroit, Michigan) aka the birthplace of the Motown Sound. I am a student of music. My Uncle studied Musicology at UCLA and all of my grandparents play at least one instrument. I play three instruments, compose, sing, and rap. I watched radios die, blogs boom, and most recently, streaming explode. How are these changes affecting the music itself?
Spotify is the largest streaming service in the world. Apple Music weaponized their user base, brand loyalty, and the iPhone to colossal results. TIDAL used Jay Z’s immense popularity and powerful friends to turn an unknown Swedish service into the third most powerful streaming service, dwarfing internet radio service, Pandora by far. Everyone is trying to win the streaming wars, it’s changing the way music is being looked at worldwide.
The rise of the internet took the music industry by storm with file sharing and digital purchases greatly taking the steam out of physical purchases. The iTunes store and the iPod eviscerated CDs as digital stores became a commonplace. The built in storage of the iPhones and the subsequent discontinuation of the iPod started to funnel people into Apple Music. The large install base and the convenience of the iPhone combined with unlimited data plans made streaming easy. It was convenient but convenience comes with a price.
Before streaming, labels were completely losing control. People could get music from anywhere at a click, whether legally or not. Free mixtapes reigned supreme at creating buzz for artists and competitive freestyle mixtapes were common. People would go to download music from sites like Datpiff, LiveMixtapes or directly to iTunes. The internet was the Wild, Wild West and there were no sheriffs in town.
Another side effect of CD sales dropping was sample clearances getting progressively more expensive. Estate owners can now retroactively sue for the use of a sample, even if the artist isn’t selling the material or a notable act yet. Kendrick Lamar is going through a legal case over the use of the sample for Rigamortis, off of his 2011 release of Section.80 , in 2014.
Artists like the Roots avoided paying huge sample clearance costs by using their own vocals for samples but the majority of artists stopped using samples all together. The simple, Fruity Loops beats, from the mid-2000s was a in response to this rise in cost, ease of creation, and availability of the software. All of a sudden, everyone could be a producer or rapper with a mic and a good internet connection.
Following the rise of simplistic bass-heavy music, ringtone rap blew up and faded. However, ringtone rap was reborn in the streaming era. Hotline Bling was a perfect example of a “remix” turned into a song, and was tacked onto an album a year after release to increase sales.
For those not abreast of streaming rules, 1,500 streams of one song equals one album sale. But wait, that doesn’t just include the “Big 3” streaming services, it also includes YouTube and Soundcloud. Hotline Bling amassed 400 million Spotify streams and 700 million YouTube streams equalling 1.1B streams just from two platforms. 1.1B streams = 733,333 album sales. Hotline Bling was streamed so many times that Views almost went platinum off of that one song on only two platforms.
Now, people are starting to release albums far longer than what has become the norm for projects. Instead of 13-14 track albums that are a solid body of work, artists such as Drake, Wale, and Future are releasing 17-20+ song “playlists”, lacking cohesion because they plan to have hit singles that will push their albums to certification status. Chris Brown is planning on releasing a 40 song album this year because he knows the more songs you have, the better chance for hit singles.
Streaming has also changed what counted as a hit song. Singles have changed and even more effects have morphed music into a new beast. Come back next Thursday for Part Two! Until Then,
Turn Your Music Up!
Any questions so far about streaming and its effect on music? I’ll cover more next week but anything not clear? Let me know in the comments below.