With the growth of streaming in key markets tempering the continued drop in download and physical sales, it is difficult for anyone to argue that streaming won’t sooner or later become the dominant revenue stream across the world for recorded music.
The move towards streaming as the main means of consumption changes many of the rules the industry has relied upon, including how to chart a record and the shape of the album lifecycle, amongst others.
One question that has been on my mind for some time now is how this changes the dynamic of fan acquisition for new artists. Here are some considerations:
1. Quality is key
Streaming offers the public a different mechanic to sample new music than had previously been available. With no extra effort or expenditure needed, potential fans can experience the whole product without putting their hand in their pocket, via any of the ad-funded streaming services. And this means that quality is key – it is much harder to make an impact on hype alone anymore. An artist in 2016 and beyond will need a fan to find their music, listen, appreciate it, and then come back to listen again and again.
Although it represents a small sample of the market and is skewed by the comparatively high price of a vinyl album, it is still telling that 48% of people who bought a vinyl album in 2015 listened to it on a streaming platform first. This supports the argument we’ve heard for a while now from some quarters; people who stream music do still purchase music. Something everyone needs to get comfortable with is that it is now almost inconceivable for someone to pay for something that they don’t already know in advance that they are going to like.
2. The chance to be heard is greater
Because new music discovery is now effectively free (or comes at no extra cost) via ad-funded (and premium) streaming platforms, people are far more likely to seek out and try new artists they haven’t heard of before.
This is amplified by the broad scope of playlists curated by the likes of Spotify, Apple Music & Deezer. For example, in the (until-recently) radio-dominated world of music discovery, a house music record might have been in with a slim chance of spot plays on specialist radio shows, competing with many other records, in what was a capped opportunity. If it performed on those specialist shows, it might have had the chance of more daytime spot plays and eventually been added to the station’s playlist.
In a streaming discovery landscape, there are many specialist playlists for acts to be added to and the opportunity is global – you don’t need to employ a local radio plugger to have your record considered. And if the track performs in those playlists, it can reach new people simply on the basis of algorithmic recommendations to others streaming on the platform. In the past couple of years at Absolute Label Services, I’ve worked with a number of artists who never had any mainstream radio plays yet are driving tens of thousands of streams per day because of their continued performance in streaming playlists.
What we are faced with is an opportunity for new artists to be heard by people they wouldn’t have been able to reach before. But the question remains – how can artists move these new listeners along the fan acquisition pipeline? What tools are available to them?
3. Streaming offers new artists more than radio did
With the huge amount of data that digital service platforms have on our listening habits, their recommendations are more targeted than radio could ever be. Everyone I have ever spoken to on the matter has found something they had never heard before and now regularly listens to via the Spotify Discover Weekly personalised playlists.
And the mechanic through which it’s delivered – a platform designed to make it easy to find, save and come back to music you like – means that new artists can quickly find themselves generating repeat streams where they had none previously.
Furthermore, with the ongoing innovations in Full Stack additions to streaming platforms such as integrated gig and merch recommendations to the right fans, new artists are given a platform to benefit from ancillary revenue quicker than they might have previously, because everything can now sit under one roof. It feels like we’re only at the very start of this trend – there are bigger wins out there if the big platforms in music verticals (recordings, gigs, merch and VR in the future) work together to deliver enhanced services for themselves and for artists.
4. But there still needs to be an end goal
Although streaming offers new artists an opportunity to gain a broader fan network, quicker, it would be foolish to suggest that any artist should set their sights on streaming income alone.
When working with an artist, for me it is still about engaging with a fan and bringing them into that artist’s environment. The end goal might be raising awareness, getting someone signed up to a mailing list or driving sales for the upcoming tour. And it is important for artists to work with a team who are experienced in the various features of streaming platforms and retargeting tools out there that can be leveraged to bring about these goals. A stream is the first step in the fan acquisition journey.
We’ve still got a long long way to go before the streaming economy works for the industry at large; but for new and emerging artists it might just be the turning of the tide in helping them get their music out there quicker and ensuring that true quality rises to the top.
Top photo © Deezer