Is the magic of music being lost in the age of the internet?

As of July, streaming websites such as Spotify will count towards the official UK music charts. With over ten million paying subscribers and over forty million active users, Spotify is increasingly becoming the primary way in which our society engages with music. Although platforms such as Spotify have made music extremely accessible, the traditional ways of interaction, and the manner in which music has been accessed and understood, are becoming increasingly undermined. Music is losing its worth. The artists’ income and remuneration is similarly being eroded and overlooked. We must therefore question whether or not streaming is a good thing? Does it enhance society’s engagement with the industry or has the magic of music been irrevocably lost? The inclusion of streaming in the charts may unfortunately signal the demise of a once thriving industry.

In years passed, the music industry’s biggest hurdle has been in targeting piracy and illegal downloading. But the appealing notion of an accessible and easy-to-use platform, in which the vast majority of music is neatly packed into, has certainly helped to combat the illicit world of music piracy. Andrew Leonard has outlined how Spotify is “so consumer friendly that music piracy has become a non-issue.” More so, streaming platforms undoubtedly accommodate for modern society’s fixation in making things as simple and accessible as possible. But nonetheless, there remains something very unnatural and artificial in jam-packing the music industry into one platform. The ease of access to modern music feels fake a too good to be true.

In using Spotify, we often ignore the knock-on effects; we pretend we aren’t aware of plummeting CD sales and overlook the hardships of small independent music stores. It’s no longer feasible for these independent music stores to stick around if they’re being grossly overshadowed by the hulking monopoly that is Spotify. Blinded by the wealth of music we have access to for just £9.99 a month, (that would be the price of just one album, if even), the predominance of streaming within the music industry is worrying when we consider all that we would be losing. We must question whether streaming’s worth to society is more of a loss than a gain. As David Byrne stated for the Guardian, “we should readjust our values because in the web-based world we are told that monopoly is good for us.”

Spotify and streaming at large have indeed been met with a range of responses from musicians. Radiohead’s Thom Yorke has stated that it “is the last gasp of the old industry.” While Billy Bragg has praised the move as a reflection of modern society’s interaction with music, his concern (along with others) has focused upon the royalties of artists who are involved with streaming platforms such as Spotify. He stated: “There needs to be something done about the remuneration for artists. We really need a new model with the record companies that makes things a lot fairer and get artists to engage with it more.” Is Spotify rewarding record labels as opposed to the work of the actual artists? There seems to be much that streaming has to answer for and maybe we are turning a blind eye to the deals that go on behind closed doors.

David Byrne has noted how that “the major labels are happy, the consumer is happy and the CEOs of the web services are happy. All good, except no one is left to speak for those who actually make the stuff.” It’s difficult to gauge whether streaming is necessarily good because although it provides publicity and recognition for artists, we’re left in the dark as to whether it provides them with a way to live off what they love doing. Stuart Dredge has outlined how Spotify’s “fiercer critics regularly accuse the company of being a loss-making scheme geared entirely towards a lucrative acquisition…that will enrich its shareholders – company executives, venture capital firms and major labels – while leaving artists out in the cold.“ Are we really comfortable with the music industry being in the hands of an overbearing few?

Indeed, now it feels like we’re in too deep. It has got to the stage where it feels almost absurd buying a CD when music can be accessed through our very fingertips. I’m sure I speak for many when I say that a part of me yearns for a return to the age of records, mixed tapes and Top of the Pops – when music was material and seemed to have a bit more magic about it. It was an age that had to listen to the radio in hope of hearing their favourite song or had to purchase the physical record, CD or tape itself. In comparison to today, music is increasingly losing its physical sentimental form. Maybe I have a romanticised view of music’s past, but it seems that there was much more excitement surrounding music twenty or thirty years ago as opposed to logging on to the internet and having it all. We’ve got our cake and are eating it but our humble past still feels considerably more genuine and fulfilling than our current age of excess. Big companies like Spotify greatly depersonalise the experience of listening to music, but is this really going to convince the majority of us to give up this treasure trove of music and abandon such accessibility? Probably not.

As published on on 30/06/2014