News broke this weekend that streaming is now the number one way that Americans listen to music, following a banner year for the platform, and honestly, I’m not surprised. Why wouldn’t you stream your music? It’s convenient, cheaper than buying albums, physical or digital, and allows you to easily discover new music at a single touch. In this sense, it’s no wonder that it’s taken off as much as it has.
What concerns me about streaming’s stranglehold on listeners isn’t its accessibility, or even the long standing disputes artists have in regards to being paid fairly, see Taylor Swift’s battle with Apple Music around its launch about payment for artists, or Thom Yorke of Radiohead saying of Spotify that it’s “the last desperate fart of a dying corpse” back in 2013.
What concerns me about streaming is that music is no longer something to commit to, and has instead become simply an accessory to which people wear when it fits. For instance, see the spikes in streams for artists that died last year: Bowie’s first No.1 album in the United States was Blackstar, but you’d be stupid to think that would be possible if it weren’t for the RIAA changing the rules of what counts as an album sale in today’s streaming environment, where albums can go platinum without physical sales. Not to mention the spike in interest after he died, which helped Bowie become one of the most streamed artists across platforms in 2016.
Beyond that, music under the streaming era becomes something that transcends cultural and geographical borders, which while great in the sense that it creates exposure for artists who wouldn’t otherwise receive it, leads to a disillusionment with music’s roots. The biggest example of streaming’s global effect can be the seen in the most streamed artist of all time: Drake.
He’s been Spotify’s most streamed artist for two years running, and his 2016 album Views was the first album to reach over a billion streams on Apple Music. Drake’s success comes from him being a global ‘everyman’, with a constant stream of content in all forms. There’s the albums, his Beats1 radio show and most importantly his features on remixes. Drake can be seen truly surpassing cultural boundaries through his remixes, at once being on up-and-coming UK artist Dave’s track ‘Wanna Know’ to Nigerian artist Wizkid’s ‘Ojuelegba’. Hell, his first No.1 single in the UK employs a Wizkid sample and heavily borrows from afro-beat. In contrast Drake is from Toronto and played Wheelchair Jimmy in Degrassi, AKA he has nothing to do with afro-beat culture.
This ever-presence of Drake is a sign of my issues with streaming, in that it removes any sense of culture and belonging for a global outreach that only really benefits a few big names. Dave or Wizkid haven’t gotten any major exposure from Drake’s remixes, only a bump in traffic while the culturally omnivorous listener just jumps between sounds dominated by artists like Drake
To that end, streaming does more harm than good when it comes to your favourite sounds, diluting them and making them trends rather than scenes that demand attention and commitment, which is a shame because different cultures can produce greatly different sounding music, from international sounds to different London Boroughs soundclashing. Great music is born out of cultural identity, and we’re losing that for platinum ‘sales’ and convenience.
That said, I just streamed Daft Punk while writing this, and I’m not French, so who am I to judge?