Is August a slow news months for the music industry? Not necessarily, as the latest developments in the streaming business show.
One of this summer’s big questions had to do with Apple Music: nearly two months after its launch, does the service live up to the firm’s reputation in an already very crowded market? In other words, is it really a success?
As often with Apple, the answer is not as obvious as it may seem at first. As its creators themselves Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre admit, these are extremely difficult times for the music industry as a whole. WIRED just heralded them as visionaries, but the duo is having a hard time looking for a silver lining for music in today’s fast-changing media landscape. “If you tell a kid: ‘You’ve got to pick music or Instagram,’ they’re not picking music,” Iovine said, adding: “the last 15 years of the record industry allowing itself to get pounded and not moving the ball forward, I think it’s going to affect popular music.”
More alarming still: Engadget highlights the gap between the firm’s own statements and a survey suggesting that “Apple Music users are jumping ship”:
In a statement given to The Verge, Apple says that 78 percent of users who signed up for Apple Music are still using the service. This statement was meant to refute a study from research firm MusicWatch. According to the company’s survey of 5,000 US consumers, 48 percent of those that tried Apple Music had stopped using it, despite the fact that it’s free through at least September.
In any case, Apple Music seems to be having little impact on existing, rival streaming services. Digital Music News reveals that the service’s launch had virtually no impact on downloads of other streaming apps. Here’s the chart:
Not forgetting another potential rival: Soundcloud. According to Music Ally, the company is slowly establishing itself as a rival of the major incumbent players, and will soon launch its own subscription service. While its co-founder Alexander Ljung declared two months ago at Midem that the future of streaming’s business models will be a combination of both ad-supported and subscription, many obstacles lie ahead in achieving this transition:
The challenge for SoundCloud lies in carefully transitioning its users into this paid or limited access model. Its selling point from its launch in 2007 was that its embeddable player meant music could be streamed anywhere on the web as it didn’t require a dedicated client or app. That gave it incredible reach, with 175m unique monthly users at the last count. It has to monetise for two pressing reasons: to appease its many and varied investors; and to ensure that rightsholders and artists continue to upload their music which is the main draw for its growing userbase.
The streaming war’s outcome is all the more uncertain as the very business model behind these services is still heavily criticised by artists, who call for more transparency and fairer pay. As David Byrne points out in a New York Times article, “when compared with vinyl and CD production, streaming gives the labels incredibly high margins, but the labels act as though nothing has changed.” He further mentions a white paper from Rethink Music: the study, published on midemblog, proposes recommendations to tackle current issues, among which a “Creator’s Bill of Rights”, a “Fair Music” seal, a decentralised rights database, blockchain technology and education initiatives for all music creators.
In such difficult times, the majors themselves have to adapt their strategies to maximise their revenues – sometimes in quite surprising ways. The New York Post reports that Warner Music is in talks with multi-channel network Vevo – owned by Universal Music Group and Sony Music – to monetise its premium videos. “If Vevo is successful, it could see millions of Warner Music videos added to the service, which would help bolster the site as a standalone destination,” and YouTube could suffer from this regained unity among the world’s biggest music publishers. In an even more surprising move, it was revealed that Universal Music was in talks with Kim Dotcom to “tax” Google by diverting its ad revenue to the label – discussions that took place just before the raids that closed Megaupload in 2012, according to TorrentFreak.
The only trend that’s been confirmed in the past few weeks? The rise of interactive music videos: as NME points out, “a few years ago it was easy to write off interactive video as a novelty or fad,” but “more and more, it looks to be the future:” Foals‘ immersive black-and-white interactive experiments (watch video below), Arcade Fire‘s interactive clips, and even Bob Dylan‘s and Led Zeppelin‘s video creations are here to prove it!
Top photo via Shutterstock – Matthia Cortesi