iTunes Radio, Spotify, and The Future of Music Streaming

I recently jumped onto the streaming music bandwagon and haven’t looked back. A couple years ago, I had taken a break from music in general. Radio had turned into white noise and iTunes music discovery didn’t suite my needs nor my budget. Perhaps it is because I came from the Napster days and graduated college with a massive amount of music that I probably won’t ever listen to, but again having the freedom of being able to listen to almost anything any time appealed to me instantly.

Before I subscribed, I checked out all the various services and liked most of them for their own unique strengths. Google Play Music had great radio features that seemed to be much closer to the song I based the station off of. Rdio’s app was quite beautiful. Beats Music had an interface and recommended playlists that I really liked. Spotify’s music discovery and offline playlists were phenomenal. iTunes Radio worked seamlessly on my iPhone.

So which to go with?

It came down to my own “must haves”. I ended up on Spotify as the music discovery and offline playlists were exactly what I wanted and came with no hassle. The other services didn’t feel finished enough for me. Yet, now that iTunes Radio and Beats Music got married it sounds like they’re about to give birth to a new Apple music streaming service. This has me VERY intrigued.

I actually came very close to sticking with Beats Music as my primary service, but in the end the offline playlists weren’t polished enough for me to stay. If Apple really pours some money and effort into this, then I’m sure it’s going to be quite compelling.

But what about the artists?

It’s amusing that today’s artists think that services like Spotify are the bad guys. Spotify recently released a breakdown of how they pay out royalties.

year by year

pie chart

That 70% is split amongst the rights holders in accordance with the popularity of their music on the service. The label or publisher then divides these royalties and accounts to each artist depending on their individual deals.

Royalties in detail

If you look at the above graphic, the artist gets paid according to the deal they signed with their agency - not what Spotify feels like paying. Which leads me to what the real question aught to be, why don’t the artists speak out against their labels or agencies? The music industry is changing and artists like Macklemore are out in front leading the charge without a label or agency. In a 2013 interview on the Nerdist Podcast Macklemore said this:

It is a very cool story. It’s what you always hope for in terms of picking the independent path. It’s cool to see that that’s been a focal point. It’s not just “Thrift Shop”; it’s this kind of do-it-yourself attitude behind the music we’ve made — that is also within the midst of this thrift shop song. That these two dudes chose to go independently, to turn down the labels. That the music industry is changing. That it’s evolving. And to be at any sort of place where we’re at the forefront of that, at the moment, is exciting.

At the most recent Grammys there was a lot said about the new Creators Alliance that is supposed to educate and advocate for artists who feel they may be getting the short end of the stick - in the form of copyright reform. One Republic frontman, Ryan Tedder, is a part of this alliance. USA Today:

Tedder, who also produces and writes songs for other artists, says has seen streaming have success in early-adopting European countries such as Sweden, he says, “everybody gets up in arms about streaming, for good reason — they don’t understand.

“It’s like you’re the test subject for a new drug. You know that this drug could keep you alive, but you’re scared to death, because you’re one of the first subjects to be injected with it. That’s how streaming feels. We know it’s likely going to save us, but we’re not sure if it’s going to be painful, or how long it’s going to take to kick in.”

Sounds like a perfect analogy to me.

Which brings me back to what Apple has planned. They’ve been making some serious hires, the most recent being Zane Lowe of BBC Radio 1. Renowned for his taste in music and ability to spot the next big thing, Zane Lowe is a hire that has perked up a whole lot of ears. Ears that are as curious as I am about the future of music streaming.