One of my earliest memories of music was listening to my brother’s copy of Pain Is Love by Ja Rule.
Not only is that album amazing in its own right, but it acted as a foundation for everything I know and love about music today – that is until mum found out it had swearing and confiscated it.
Since that fateful day I’ve enjoyed music from all around the world, in every genre. I remember obsessing over Breakfast in America by Supertramp with my Dad on the way to school; I remember the first time I played Winelight by Grover Washington Jr. on vinyl and proceeded to do so on repeat for days on end; and I remember the countless hours I’ve spent trawling through J-Dilla’s entire discography.
I get a massive rush every time I hear a new song or a new artist that I like, and I get an even bigger rush every time I’m able to share that feeling with someone close to me. So it’s no surprise I was overwhelmed with joy when streaming services became widely available.
But before we can get into my beef with streaming services, first we need to find out where they came from.
Music streaming began in 1993 with the Internet Underground Music Archive. It gave independent and underground artists the chance to upload their songs to a free MP3 service. Next we had Last.fm, closely followed by Pandora who started using algorithms to recommend music for individual users. Skip forward a few years to 2008 and we have Spotify who offered both a free and subscription service. Skip forward a few more years and we have Apple and Tidal joining up in 2014 and 2015 respectively.
It’s a brief history lesson but I’ve more or less covered the biggest players in the online streaming industry (less Soundcloud, who I won’t be referencing in this article).
My quarrel with the streaming industry has nothing to do with the range of options we have.
Rather, it is that streaming services are becoming increasingly competitive, subsequently resorting to exclusive releases in order to boost their subscriptions. In doing so, streaming services are damaging the relationship between artist and audience.
I’ve always been a big believer that music is about sharing. Chucking on some sweet tunes has always been a great way to connect with the people around me, whether that be in a nightclub in Berlin or around a campfire in India. Music is a part of mine and everyone’s identity, and when we find someone who shares that identity, it’s special.
Polarising who people can and can’t listen to certain artists based on their subscription seems counter-intuitive to me.
We unite over national anthems, team songs and nursery rhymes, so why shouldn’t we unite over Views from the Six?
There is, of course the commerce side of things (ugh boring). Not only do the musicians get sweet sweet contracts, but their music actually performs better. Here’s how:
Say I’m Kanye West. I release The Life of Pablo exclusively to Tidal for a couple of days. Everyone on Tidal plays my album ten million times per second, and everyone else either waits patiently, illegally downloads it or subscribes to Tidal. In the meantime I climb the charts and maybe even break some records. Then, in a week’s time, I release my album to everyone else. All of a sudden I have a second wave of fans clicking play on my album. It essentially gives one body of work two releases. This way artists stay on the top for longer, and build more hype.
I accept we live in a capitalist society and that these things inevitably happen. I also accept that there are benefits to musicians when they sign up to exclusive deals. But the fact is you can’t sign up for every streaming service unless you eat Waldorf salads and go duck hunting in the Spring. Considering I do neither of those things, I deserve to hear my favourite artist’s music.
Recently at the 2016 OVO festival Drake and Kanye hinted at a joint album. Rumours of such a project have been circulating for years, and considering the strength of Drake and Future’s What a Time to be Alive, I’m sure it will be an album for the ages.
Unfortunately, however, were this mystery album ever to be made, its distribution could cause contractual issues big enough to quash the project entirely.
Drake has agreed to an exclusive contract with Apple. Kanye has the same deal with Tidal. So, if they were to ever make an album together, who would get the rights? The answer: I have no idea. Logistically I have no clue how an album like that would work, and if exclusive releases are what’s keeping us from it, then damn them to hell.
When you boil down to it, I’m just a guy who really likes his music. When you wake up, go to sleep, and do everything in between with a beat in your ears, you don’t like being denied access to your favourite artists. So please, to all you streaming services out there, stop taking our tunes away.