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By Jakob Esaw

The perils of streaming music services: As always, the internet gives us what we want, which I reckon is democracy, but I still have a major problem with all of this free stuff.

Streaming Music
i Heart RadioIf you haven’t heard already, let me tell you the next best thing to hearing your favorite song on your favorite radio station. It’s streaming music on your smartphone, of course! I don’t know what it is about streaming music. Maybe it’s because the algorithms that so accurately predict what I want to hear make me feel like there’s a little creature inside my pant’s pocket who can read my mind. Or maybe it’s because computer science has so vastly outpaced my own cognitive abilities, the question of artificial intelligence taking over the world is not a matter of when or if it will happen, but Holy God in heaven, when exactly did that happen?

Yes, maybe we are all doomed.
I say this not because I don’t like these music streaming services. In fact, I have done what so many others in my generation have done. I have downloaded these apps onto my phone so that when I go for a run or am driving through my city’s terrible traffic, I can be constantly distracted about how awful things are going all around me. I can tune everything out and just ride on.

PandoraI love these streaming services, and I wholeheartedly recommend them, including iHeartRadio, Pandora, and Spotify. I just think, like so many other artists out there, that something big has to change when it comes to how these services operate. Most of the people who are in the music business can’t hope to make a living based solely on the money they make off of streaming music. Click here to see a neat little infographic from around this time last year showing how many plays a musician needs to get on some of the popular streaming services before he or she actually makes minimum wage. It’s a pretty rough reality, and, again, we have to admit that in most cases, a musician (or any artist) can’t expect to just produce a work and be skyrocketed to fame and fortune.

I said that we might all be doomed because of this strange habit that we seem to be developing and reinforcing in which we all assume that we ought to get everything for free. The internet started this trend, and services like Napster really reinforced it. Now, any savvy internet user can find a way of getting the con
tent he wants without actually having to pay for it. Maybe an advertisement here and there, but in the end, it’s all essentially free.

SpotifyMaybe something like the public radio model would work well for artists, who would have to put on their entrepreneur hats to really get their names into the public consciousness. They could start websites where devoted fans pay them money directly, and in exchange, they get a “backstage pass” to as much content as the artist can produce. Maybe artists can enter into direct contracts with mobile carriers and strike up deals with other websites that are willing to pay to have the right to host their content. The internet, if nothing else, has democratized art. We’ll see if it works in the end.

However, if we’re not careful, we may find that streaming music services in app form have the potential to shake the bedrock of the solid public radio model as well. When I listen to NPR on iHeartRadio, for instance, and a member pledge drive comes on, what’s to stop me from switching to another NPR station on the very same app? I could be listening to WNYC in New York one week, and then switch over to WVXU in Cincinnati while the New York station gets its pledge drive out of the way. Obviously, NPR could have a real funding problem on its hands, and doing a better job of coordinating these pledge drives so that they fall on the same week allow public radios to close the funding gap.
 Web User
In the end, streaming music services are some of the most amazing innovations of this century. They bring us plenty of options in music, and they therefore let us hear things we might never have heard before. They also let us wall ourselves off even deeper into our own preferences, which is a general criticism of the internet itself, and they have a real problem when it comes to getting money to the individuals who truly deserve it: the artists, the producers, the people who bring us the beauty and show us that, yes, the world is actually a pretty neat place, even with (or especially with) all of this messy democracy business we have to deal with. / Issue 195 - July 2018
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