The relationship between the music industry and new technology has always been a reluctant but prosperous one. Even before the internet, competing media such as Television were at first seen as a threat, rather than a new promotional outlet and revenue generator. The industry feared television due to its visual nature.
However, this visual element led to the formation of genre-defining performance techniques; rock ‘n’ roll was perhaps the first ‘visual’ music genre. The two outlets have gone on to have a financially lucrative relationship, which is still evolving to this day, with Spotify looking to include video within their service.
The industry’s introduction to the internet was similar. At first seen as a threat due to illegal downloading capabilities, the internet eventually became the most popular tool for music consumption in the world, though severely damaging physical sales of music.
Despite the profit generated from internet-based music consumption services, illegal downloading and the consumption of ‘free’ music is something the music industry hates. Sony Music CEO Doug Morris told Hits Daily Double “I equate ‘free’ with the decline of the music business”. It was reported in a Financial Times report released earlier this year that Universal Music Group feel free streaming services are leading to the decline of music sales, with the major labels pressuring Spotify to differentiate its free streaming service from its paid version. If the major labels had their way, there would be no ‘free’ streaming, with a paid service being the public’s only option. As of yet however, this has simply not been feasible.
There is and always has been a massive public demand for free music. Whether it’s illegal downloading, Vevo, streaming or copying music to blank CDs and cassettes, people have always found a way to not have to pay for music. Jay Z’s Tidal Streaming service has encountered a lot of problems due to forcing customers to pay for their streaming, with market leader Spotify co-founder Martin Lorezton recently mocking “I’ve got 99 problems but Jay Z isn’t one of them”, although Jay Z himself seemed quite confident with his social media responses…
With the financial and celebrity backing Tidal has, it is fair to assume that the solely paid streaming model is simply not going to succeed in today’s music climate. Apple and Beats are expected to unveil their new music streaming service, Beats Music, in June. The service is expected to be subscription-only which some will see as an indicator that Beats Music will go the same way as Tidal (despite undoubtedly better PR). There is a key difference between the two however;
Apple have successfully done this before.
The ‘this’ I am referring to it taking a consumption practice widely accepted to be free, and charging for it.
Steve Jobs introduced the iPod and iTunes to the labels around 2002, convincing the labels to licence their entire libraries to the service. Napster and similar websites were dominating music downloads, and the labels desperately needed a way to compete. Whilst the industry wanted these websites taken down, Jobs saw embracing the rise of digital music as the inevitable future of consumption. He modified the iPod’s music management system to become the iTunes store, providing an easy, cheap and legal way of downloading high-quality music straight to your computer.
The iTunes music store opened April 28th 2003, hosting 1 million downloads within its first week. Jobs and Apple had done it; they had proved that people would willingly pay for music instead of illegally downloading. The quality guarantee, ease and integration of the service had swayed the public, and the major labels now had a legitimate way of competing with illegal websites.
However now, with iTunes’ sales declining, consumers are turning to streaming and rediscovering free music. Apple is about to try to repeat history, attempting to create a service that will be profitable to itself and the major labels, whilst satisfying and attracting new customers.
This may be the last chance for a solely paid streaming service to find a successful model. Apple has done this before, but it remains to be seen if they can repeat their success.