The Battle Between Streaming and Digital

Jacob McIntyre, Staff Writer

In the U.S., streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music are growing as the bought music industry dwindles in revenue and users. This is good for costumers and the music industry as a whole.

In September 2019, the most used music streaming services were Spotify and Apple music which have remained the top two most used streaming services since. Problems with these streaming services and digital subscriptions in general have emerged regarding the wellbeing of the music industry. Streaming services give out little in royalties to creators compared to traditional publishing. However, streaming has many advantages over traditional publishing. Streaming recommendation systems mean that people can effortlessly keep up with the most recent music, and the bar for entry is significantly lowered for creators and listeners alike. To senior Isabella Hibpshman streaming is “just easier to access.” This means that more people will listen to compensate for the lack of money earned per listener.

An article by statistica stated that in September 2019 “the most successful music streaming service in the United States was Apple Music as of September, with the most up to date information showing that 49.5 million users accessed the platform each month. Spotify closely followed, with a similarly impressive 47.7 million monthly users.” Streaming was popular even in 2019 and was important to the music industry. With streaming growing in popularity, how streaming affects the music ecosystem is more important than ever.

The recommendation system complements the small creators drawn to these platforms. These systems know what genres the user likes based on their previous music choices, allowing for the algorithm to narrow down what the listener wants, and then take risks by recommending newer creators. More creators making music due to the lower bar of entry means that these services can accumulate songs and utilize them. This is good for the music industry because more people with different tastes coming into music means more overall revenue and more resilience to change. According to YouTube, “Recommendations are responsible for helping more than a billion users discover personalized content from an ever-growing corpus of videos.” The same system is used for YouTube music.

Personalized content causes users to stick around and have a better experience with music overall. As long as there is more music coming to the service, people will have ample reason to stay on streaming instead of buying music. Freshman Patrick Curling says it is a “better experience for listening.” This has already reduced the users on bought physical and digital music. According to YouTube, “Historical user behavior on YouTube is inherently difficult to predict due to sparsity and a variety of unobservable external factors. We rarely obtain the ground truth of user satisfaction and instead model noisy implicit feedback signals” meaning that the longer a user remains on a given platform, the more that platform is able to recommend music outside of mainstream tracks.

Streaming is also easier to accesses. Sophomore Breacon Adams says, “You always have it wherever you go.” With streaming, the latest music can be listened to instantly and wherever the customer goes. This is far superior to tracks that can only be listened to if they were already downloaded.

Even before music streaming came along, the digital and physical music industry was losing users. This could be due to a large variety of factors, but streaming has increased the revenue and health of the music industry. Little of that revenue is going toward the creators, as a study done at the end of 2019 found data gathered at the end of 2019 stated that “for music artists the least lucrative platform in terms of generating an income of around 1,400 U.S. dollars (the minimum wage in the United States) was YouTube, with artists needing over 2.13 million plays in order to earn that amount.” In 2021 YouTube music was the third most used platform. If artists cannot make more than minimum wage making music, then it is unlikely that they will stay in the music business for long. In fact, according to Digital Music News, “That starts with YouTube, which pays a relative pittance for playing music videos and refuses to modify its rates.” Given that YouTube is unlikely to change its rates this creator platform disparity is likely to remain an issue.

Other platforms do profit distribution better than YouTube. According to Digital Music News Spotify has an estimated $20 per user in revenue while YouTube has an estimated revenue per user of less than $1 . This is good for the music industry because some creators are still able to make enough money to stay with music streaming rather than go the harder traditional route of publishing. This will provide more data and more personalized recommendations to users, enhancing the strengths of music streaming. The main issue facing streaming is that they rely on small creators as the backbone of their business, as that is the one thing other forms of music cannot give people reasonably. Still, music streaming seems to have a bright future.