19 Jan 2018

5 Reasons Why Streaming Sucks

5 Reasons Why You Can't Rely On Streaming

This topic has been done to death, so why even waste time writing about it? Well, I thought I'd just add my five cents to the cacophony of opinions.

Streaming, whether you partake through Spotify, Deezer, Tidal or the scores of similar services, obviously fits very well with today's minimalist approach to daily life. People no longer want huge collections cluttering up their homes, and there's the obvious advantage of being able to bring all the music in the world on the go with just your phone - which you're already carrying around anyway.

Likewise the low cost of streaming (it's technically "free" if you don't mind listening to commercials all the time) means that it is cheaper for consumers than it would be to buy every album or song they want. The advantages with streaming are numerous and obvious, and to many people it might be the optimal solution.

I'm not going to act all holy and pretend I never use streaming services. When I do, it is mainly for checking out new stuff, listening to new albums I haven't been able to buy yet (usually for monetary reasons) or old stuff that is out of print, insanely expensive or otherwise hard to find. My point is that there are good and bad reasons to use streaming. In the car, I listen to CDs. At home, CDs, tapes and vinyl accounts for something like 95% of my listening. But here are a few reasons why I think streaming is ass.

1. Consumer VS Fan
Streaming turns music fans into consumers. True, you're also a consumer by buying music if you want to get technical about it. But if you're ONLY streaming music, whether you pay for the service or not, you're just consuming music as you would milk and eggs.

When you're buying a Spotify membership, you're not paying the musicians. You're paying Spotify. Add to that the ridiculously low royalties that streaming services pay the artists, and you've got yourself a match made in hell. Artists and labels are forced to play along because this is the way people listen to music nowadays, but the only winners are the streaming companies and, perhaps, the top 40 current artists of the world.

Some people I've talked to go for the ol' "but I go to shows and buy merch" schtick. That's great, good for you. And good for the artists too. But it's not like that was ever a musician's only source of income. Imagine that you got your paycheck cut in half, but you still had to do the same amount of work. Then at the same time people scold you for complaining because at least you have a job. That's what it's like.

2. Availability
Streaming is easy if you only listen to pop music anyway. The type of person who would in the past just listen to the radio and not actually buy any music is the main type of person who has now evolved into your average streaming consumer. You have convenient access to your ever interchangable top 40 hits, even on the go.

However, your taste doesn't have to be very ecclectic before you run into the inevitable problem of "why isn't this album on here!?". And I'm not just talking heavy metal. Lots of other genres suffer the same problems.

The streaming companies don't give too much of a shit about obscure music because they know it's a niche market, and that the exclusion of it won't be a dealbreaker for that many people. Then, of course, there are the instances where the artists themselves have made the decision to not have their music available for streaming.

The problem is, that streaming - in my eyes at least - only makes sense if you have access to everything. Otherwise I might as well just buy the CD and rip it to my computer, and then transfer the files to my phone if I so sorely need to listen to it while I go about my business. Otherwise I'd have to switch back and forth between listening options all the time anyway, which really negates the convenience aspect of streaming music.

The issue here is that sometimes the music I'm looking for isn't even that obscure. Like the other day I wanted to check out Dr. Dre's classic album The Chronic, but it's not on Deezer. And that isn't by any definition an obscure album. And I can't even count all the times I've encountered that "this song isn't available in your country" message.

Another facet of this issue is that you have no control over which version you're listening to. Like with Megadeth's albums, where you only have the option of listening to the vastly inferior 2004 remastered versions.

3. Quality
This is a really tired argument in the great discussion of streaming. Is streaming really that terrible quality? As a music source compared to CDs or vinyl, yes. But like with so many things, it really depends on various aspects. If you listen to vinyl on a Crosley turntable, it doesn't matter how heavy or well-produced the vinyl is, it will still sound terrible. Same goes for streaming. Tidal may allow for higher bitrates while streaming, but if you're listening in your car or through the buds that came with your iPhone, it'll still sound like shit.

But even so, the argument that streaming is of inferior quality isn't entirely irrelevant. Because the source of what you're listening to obviously dictates how good it will sound through the chain of amplifier and speaker. Again, most people won't care because they're listening to music in their car or through their TV at home, but if you're doing that then there's really no hope for you anyway.

4. Commodification of Music
This point is basically an amalgam of all the previous points. What streaming essentially does is commodify music. And in a way, music today is a form of commodity, but streaming devalues music to a state where it is something you just have playing in the background, only to forget about it once the next single comes it. It promotes a culture where music isn't just that - culture. Music becomes forgettable stuff to be thrown away when it no longer fits the trend.

There's no respect for the work artists put into music. Streaming the fruits of their labour is like a punch in the genitals. The radio, by comparison, at the very least pays a decent royalty to the artists. Streaming to an extent devalues the work of artists. It's not unusual for an album to cost around 8 USD or EUR. That's about the same as a large cup of coffee and a donut, which will last you about 15 minutes and only pays the salaries of Starbucks employees. But people aren't willing to pay a musician who has poured hours upon hours of their life into their music.

5. Presentation
Streaming negates the need for a presentation of an album. Actually, it even negates the need for an album as a format. It sounds like something old people would say (maybe I'm slowly getting there), but examining a carefully designed album cover and reading through the liner notes is an element completely lost with streaming.

To many, this doesn't matter at all - again, because music is just a commodity to be consumed and forgotten, like an accessory to their style rather than something meaningful in their life - but it is part of what makes music a part of culture and not just pure consumerism. An album in its entirety often reflects, or even influences, the reality and time it was made in. It's a product of its time, and yet also has some influence over how the times form from that point on. Imagine if Bob Dylan's most important albums had just been an assortment of tracks scattered across streaming platforms. Yeah, no.

"But it makes life easier for musicians!"
I've heard variations of this argument more times than I care to count. The gist of this notion is that streaming services makes it easier for musicians because it provides EXPOSURE!

I call bullshit. Before streaming, there was mix CDs and mix tapes. Before tapes, you'd read magazines and fanzines for recommendations. Or maybe you'd even talk to your friends about cool new music! What a novel idea! You'd go to shows and check out the new, upcoming bands, or listen to the radio. You could almost have a relationship to radio hosts or reviewers that shared your musical tastes.

Long story short, YouTube and Spotify didn't invent exposing new bands to hapless listeners. In the same manner, the argument that "streaming makes it easier for musicians to get paid" is also a complete load. Unless you're top 40, you're not making any meaningful income from streaming because of how labels redistribute revenue from streaming.

This turned out to be more of a rant than originally intended. Oh well. If anyone is still reading, the short version is that I believe streaming is - on a general level - harmful to music. Not the music industry, but music in general. I'd be happy to hear what you have to say on the matter, so post your opinions and arguments below.

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