Are streaming services fair?

By: Sam Kayuha, In The Record Store staff writer.

On a recent episode of In The Record Store, Vince and Grant talked with members of the Phillip Fox Band about their grievances with the streaming service Spotify.

“I’m a Spotify user myself and there was some really great perspective on that,” Grant said of an essay on the band’s website. “The unlimited, it becomes daunting. I’ve ran into that musically in other places, like when you have a digital effects box that gives you every effect in the world, you have a hard time picking the one you want to play with.”

Streaming services that are based on subscriptions such as Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal have become so big that they have passed the point of debate on whether they are good or not. But until the last few years, artists have been pushing up against the current, trying, even if not to stop the rush of streaming, to make it more beneficial to the artist. That said, music streaming has been around in some form for a decade.

Image credit: Phillip Fox Band.

Image credit: Phillip Fox Band.

Metallica and Napster: One of the first online music services, Napster was an illegal file sharing service that gained considerable popularity when the internet was beginning to make massive impacts on multiple areas of culture in the early 2000's.

Metallica sued the company for copyright infringement and racketeering, in essence taking their own fans to court.

This case was at the beginning of online music, and although it ended in the artist’s favor, it was an early sign that the internet opened up a much bigger box for music than originally thought.

Radiohead: Thom Yorke, frontman of the British experimental rock band, has long been an outspoken opponent of streaming, once calling Spotify “the last desperate fart of a dying corpse.”

Although the band has relented and much of its music is available online, back in 2007 it gave a unique response to the streaming phenomenon. It released its new album “In Rainbows” on its website, for whatever price the listener was willing to pay — including no price.

The group was largely praised for its ingenuity, and was given credit for operating outside of industry norms. While the practice never really caught on, the band solidified its experimental nature by defying one of the few regularities that remained in music — setting a price for your album.

Tidal: In 2014, right about when everyone decided that streaming would be the way to do things, at least for the foreseeable future, Jay Z and a group of investors that included Beyoncé, Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, J. Cole, Alicia Keys and others, acquired the streaming service Tidal.

Spotify had been derided for the pittance paid per stream, and the thought was that a service owned by artists would be more artist friendly. While it is unclear if that has shaken out, Tidal has maintained relevancy, mostly through exclusive releases by those with a stake in the company.

There have been rumors of a fire sale, but as of now Tidal looks secure in third place among the big three streaming services including Spotify and Apple Music. There is not much notable distinction between the three, and the exclusive releases by Tidal is as good of a reason as any to choose it over the others.

Other fights with streaming services abounded, but no other option has emerged as the next best thing in how to listen to music. Moving on from buying music to subscribing to a service that offers almost any music imaginable feels like an endpoint, like there is not much further we can go. But I’m sure most people in Silicon Valley feel differently.