About eight years ago I wrote a study comparing various download providers. I was surprised about how many opportunities were missed. I would have reacted way more indignantly if I knew then how long it would take to implement these features. In fact, some of those are missing still… and there are rumours that at least Apple is about to stop selling downloads.
Now, in streaming, again I see features missing. From a business point of view it’s about mass appeal. In the long term though, you won’t reach the niche audiences in the Long Tail. It is about time to rewire streaming architecture.
Rewiring streaming architecture must go right down to the core.
There is one issue with streaming that doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Actually, most people might say – “Jeeez, what’s your problem?”
But it’s here, and it’s more serious than you think. The solution, however, is more overwhelming than you ever dared to hope.
Right in your face: It is the catalogue.
The core of it all… literally.
There’s much versatility and richness in the catalogues of streaming services. The catalogues are vast. One might think.
Yet, there are gaps. The gaps are that wide that it’s more reasonable to talk of available music as islands in an ocean. There are many reasons: Windowing, missing licences, artists not willing to sell on a certain channel, or a release that’s not available at all because it’s shelved.
Musical heritage and legacy are neglected.
I remember a talk in 2009 by musicologist Andrew Dubber during which he mentioned that it’s only the tip of the iceberg of music that is available today – based on the amount of what has been produced over time. He estimated the percentage of available music at a whoppin’ 5%. FIVE.
A bit of research led me to a video by Sean Dunne. It is a very short documentation about Paul Mawhinney and his archive of vinyl records, the largest one in the world at this time. In 2008, when it was to be sold, he had about 1 million albums and 1.5 million singles sitting on the shelves.
The Library of Congress conducted a study of Mawhinney’s collection. According to Mawhinney’s statement in the video from 2008, at least 83% of the collection were found not to be available anymore. These are releases dating back from 1948–1966. 17% have been released on CD. We all know, many riches have been shelved, and this doesn’t include promotional recordings which are not released sometimes. But, there have been re-releases only available as downloads as well.
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to track down The Library of Congress’s study. In the end though, with the scarce numbers above it’s fairly sure to say we have access to just 5–10% of all music ever recorded. This takes into account recorded music only.
How to get all music accessible?
Present and future of creativity have its very own obstacles.
Lamenting about the past doesn’t help. Thanks to User Generated Content (UGC) the amount of accessible music and versions is growing exponentially.
The most exciting thing about services like SoundCloud and Mixcloud is how they breathed more life and variety in a closed vault. Getting access to more and older music in a legal way would help creativity and culture flourish even more.
How to make remixes and mashups widely and smoothly accessible with everything being correctly licensed?
Windowing is not a streaming provider’s USP
Recently, Lucian Grainge strongly spoke out against streaming exclusives. This did not include „windowing“.
From my point of view, exclusives can be positive in terms of digital scarcity. But windowing on some streaming services is plain wrong.
It is a problem. It is the wrong way of generating USPs for streaming providers.
Of course, artists can „help“ the fan to decide what to buy where – and increase their own revenue. But in the end, this way of strategy urges fans to switch providers. Or, even worse, it leads right the way to piracy. Again. You are alienating the hands that feeds you.
Fans don’t want to loose access when they switch providers. They don’t want to miss out on some artists when they decide to subscribe. They might avoid subscribing for money altogether. Because it doesn’t makes sense.
Exclusive tracks and releases are no USP of a service. Features, the ability to create awesome discovery algorithms, the work of a human curator team, a stand-out design – THESE are Unique Selling Proposals of a service provider.
How to achieve a tightly controlled windowing and scarcity management that works?
Rebuilding the music business by rewiring streaming architecture
It would be great to pay respect to history. To honor a cultural heritage. To build upon that heritage easily. To get licensing done in a clean and smooth way. To get scarcity back in a digital way that works with your fans.
- Streaming providers want to apply their business models more easily.
- Artists want control and fair payment.
- Creative users want creative access as it was with SoundCloud.
- Users want comfortable access to a vast choice of tracks.
If streaming is supposed to replace downloads you have to give the user access that feels like ownership. Sometimes, temporary releases can keep up the tension of fandom and collecting. Scarcity entirely controlled by the artist.
No scarcity based upon streaming channels though. You may buy CD albums and vinyl albums, albums from the time an artist was with Warner and those when he was with UMG. But it’s no good advice to implicitly tell fans „hey, you’d better subscribe to and pay for TIDAL, Apple Music and Spotify“ — which means to pay for all three of them and more.
Streaming could gain far more paid subscriptions. Therefore, the payment for artists could increase significantly if the right conclusions were made.
Cutting the heart out of streaming providers.
A radical step would help:
Get the songs out, get the content out of the streaming providers’ hands. Cut the heart out of streaming providers.
Imagine a cloud-based Library-of-Congress-like storage to hold all works. All versions. Anything that has ever been published and even shelved afterwards… not just the tiny fragment that is available now.
But, a bit like the ARChive of Contemporary Music it has to be controlled by artists. It could be an organisation of artists, and nothing but artists. No publishers, no labels, and I’d even dare to say no heirs and no simple rightholders.
This storage must be decentralised, no matter if it’s a „real life“ or digital storage.
It could be part of a Blockchain architecture.
Streaming services would link to this archive. Most importantly, the keys would be in the artist’s hand, and the user would be free to choose any streaming provider according to their true USPs. There must be no fear of losing music when a provider folds or when you would like to switch.
And streaming providers can focus on what they are best at: technology.
Legal war is over.
The licensing dispute between artists and streaming providers would be obsolete. All tracks could be automatically licensed as soon as they are released to the archive. The challenge left for artists will be how to get the best out of split payments.
It still is a long way to go. Right now, streaming gets more popular, so it’s staying with us for a while. Actually, I guess it is about to culminate soon.
Building a layered structure by rewiring streaming architecture based on a metadata layer for licensing wrapped around otherwise non-accessible music, the climax of streaming can be expected later. Revenues could keep rising unlike now.