Is music streaming positive or negative for local artists?

Source: 1News

The historic rise of music streaming platforms has local musicians celebrating as its increased accessibility has made it easier for them to release music. But in some ways, it has also made things harder.

Music streaming platforms.

In the days before everyone had smartphones in their pockets, it was hard for smaller independent artists to release their music to the wider world - traditionally, a record deal was needed.

While a few “DIY” artists existed, they were few and far between and were only really known in their hometowns.

Apps like Spotify and Apple Music have changed the game, allowing artists to easily upload their own music to the world. Distribution services like DistroKid mean anyone can upload a song to streaming platforms - for a fee.

Benji Perez-Cottaar, who plays the guitar for Auckland-based melodic hardcore band Stacked, told 1News that the accessibility of the platform for musicians is the most appealing factor.

“In my experience, I feel like things are a lot easier than they were, especially for up-and-coming bands who don’t have a label to release music for them,” he said.

“It makes things really accessible and opens up a bunch of new opportunities that weren’t available before streaming.”

Stacked playing live.

He believes that the ability to upload music whenever they want gives local bands and artists opportunities that weren’t previously available.

“It gives us a way to open up to the world - we’ve got listeners in countries around the world who otherwise wouldn’t have known we existed,” Perez-Cottaar said.

This sentiment is also carried by indie-pop singer/songwriter Erin G, who also sees the promotional opportunities that come with the accessibility of the platform.

“It’s great to have when you’re meeting people for the first time, and you say you're on Spotify, they’re amazed by it.

“People take you more seriously when your music is released to streaming, so it can open up a lot of doors. You can use it as a way to show other artists what you're about,” she said.

“It also has that element of social media,” Perez-Cottaar said.

“It gives you the ability to share it and put yourself out there - it’s just way easier for people to get to it, really.”

For bands like Stacked, whose fast-paced but technical songs would be on the fringe of what’s popular, audiences who are able to listen to whatever they want, whenever they want, have opened up the genre barrier that traditionally came with radio stations and record labels.

Now a listener has unlimited access to any kind of music they want, regardless of size or location, which is good for more fringe genres.

“Without platforms like Spotify and Soundcloud and all that, I didn’t think we’d be as capable of putting ourselves out there,” Perez-Cottaar said.

Erin G playing live

Erin G sees it as a great opportunity for New Zealand music.

“The New Zealand music scene is really tight, so people can go to gigs and see a new band they like and then immediately listen to them when they get home," she said.

Both Perez-Cottaar and Erin G agreed that streaming platforms have significantly contributed to their success in the industry and given them the exposure they need to get noticed.

“We’ve definitely seen a jump in support, and in general, people knowing about us. We went from 50 or 60 monthly listeners to 266 monthly listeners, which is quite a bit - and we’ve seen a thousand streams in just under a week with our new single," Perez-Cottaar said.

“Without that platform, we wouldn’t have those stats; I feel like people would be a lot more reluctant to buy a CD or a vinyl as opposed to just opening up Spotify and just searching up our name."

Stacked is now signed by Kiwi hardcore record label - North Supply.

The negatives of streaming for local artists

While streaming platforms have made breaking into the industry a far more accessible prospect for local artists, it has also made things difficult in some ways.

While 86% of Kiwis are confident about their finances, data shows that may be misplaced.

Spotify currently pays US$0.004 (NZ$0.0065) per stream, which means hopeful musicians' prospects of becoming rich from streaming are nearly impossible. This means that gigs are where the money is made rather than the number of listeners.

“The pay is probably the only bad thing; it means that we can’t rely on streaming alone for revenue; we have to play gigs quite a lot which hasn’t been as stable after Covid,” Perez-Cottaar said.

Erin G said that while accessibility is an overall good thing, it’s created a massive influx of other artists trying to achieve the same goal - making it harder to stand out in the crowd.

“For a lot of new artists, standing out from the crowd can be really hard; it means that you have to go above and beyond to stand out, which can be difficult and expensive for some people,” Erin G said.

But she also pointed out that this kind of competition has encouraged artists to put themselves out there, and while it can be difficult, it shows that those who are driven can succeed.

“I think that standing out can be a lot of fun; you really get to learn how to express yourself through promotion; if you’re driven, it can work out,” she said.

Streaming's effect on the music industry

While streaming platforms seem like a utopia for burgeoning local musicians to get a headstart, those who work in the industry see little change.

Microphone.

Ben Howe, the director and owner of New Zealand's iconic Flying Nun Records, as well as music industry coordinator and lecturer at Massey University, told 1News that streaming has reinforced conventions that existed before the technology.

He said that the platform's algorithms still tend to favour "blockbuster artists" over more niche musicians.

"When streaming first became a thing, there was a belief that it would democratise and broaden audiences, but it kind of hasn't worked that way," he said.

"The algorithm still tends to favour your Taylor Swift's who can draw big numbers to the platform."

When it comes to local music, there is a wide variety that is available to audiences, but Howe said, based on his own observations, the algorithm won't always prioritise recommending local music.

"A few years back, I did some experiments where I only listened to music from Wellington to see what the algorithm would do, to see if it would keep recommending me music from Wellington - at that time, it didn't, it kept recommending obscure indie bands from around the world," he said.

"That was a few years ago, and I have noticed that it has gotten a little bit better but not by much."

Regarding the broader music industry, Howe said that streaming platforms had created a model where the song is now more important than the artist.

"Because of how playlists work, audiences are being pushed towards loyalty to a specific song instead of artists; for labels and musicians, it's about making short and catchy songs that fit well on playlists," he said.

"TikTok is an example of that, where millions of people can listen to a song, and nobody knows who the artist is."

TikTok (file photo).

However, he said that this separation of the artist from song had caused a counter-cultural movement among music fans - who invest in artists and their entire discography.

"You kind of see that in the surge of vinyl record sales and now CD sales where more and more people do want to have an album, they do want to have physical products, and they want to take it home," Howe said.

He said that the future of music with streaming at its peak is uncertain, but he believes it will become more centralised on streaming: "until then, we'll have to see."