The Case for Artists Selling, Not Streaming Music

It was announced at the eleventh hour that Adele’s new record, 25 will not be available on any streaming service for at least a little while. What this means for people like me and basically everyone under 30 is that it won’t magically show up in your music app and be available to listen to. This time you’ll have to actually…gulp…buy it. Oh my god! This decision means that the only way to listen to this album is to buy it from iTunes, Google Play Music, Amazon Music, or even, and I hate to even suggest it, go to a store and buy the physical CD.

Now, of course there are people who have voiced their displeasure with this move by Adele. We’ve been spoiled into thinking that a measly $10/month entitles us to every song ever written, recorded, and released. So now when an artist decides to eschew streaming, we notice.

He’s what Spotify chief content officer thinks about the decision:

From a user standpoint, it’s a pretty hostile proposition. The notion that you would want to withhold records from people who are paying 120 pounds or euros or dollars a year is just really mind-boggling. It’s pretty hostile to punish your best customers and fans.

First, let’s not pretend for a second that streaming music customers are artists’ “best customers.” From a revenue perspective, streaming customers are just above people who pirate music. Why do you think that artists are trying to get you to go to their concerts, buy their CD at Target (with X bonus tracks), buy the digital album on iTunes, or buy directly from them on their website? Artists get a lot more money per listener when they sell directly to you, not when they are included in your streaming bundle package. Adele’s new album is $11 on iTunes, which is a dollar more than your entire Spotify/Apple Music subscription which gets spread out to Spotify and the dozens, if not hundreds of artists you listen to this month.

I also think there is a more touchy-feely reason for keeping your album off streaming music. With streaming music, all music is counted equal. It’s just as easy for me to stream Adele or Taylor Swift as it is for me to listen to anything else. There’s nothing special about one album over another when everything feels like it’s free. When you buy an album though, that strengthens your bond with that particular album. By dropping some cash on this album, it will stand out to you more than the endless tunes you stream day in and day out. You’re also more inclined to like it since once again, you spent money on it. It’s a bit “old fashioned” to buy a specific record these days, but I think it’s still the best way to listen to music.

All this said, you could make the argument “that’s fine for Adele” or “that’s fine for Taylor Swift,” and you’d have a point. It’s much harder for a new artist to pull this off. People are more likely to drop $10+ on known quantities and few artists have a following that is loyal and dedicated enough to pull this off.

Whether it makes financial sense for an artist to withhold their music from streaming services is something each artist needs to decide for themselves. I think every artist who can pull it off absolutely should.