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Music Listening: Streaming and Its Dominant Transition

Updated on January 8, 2018

What Actually Happened?

The music industry was forever changed by the option for listeners to stream choice songs instead of purchase albums at whole. Digital and physical album sales have significantly decreased, artists are losing revenue, and the culture has shifted to individual streams versus traditional album sales.

The Initial Shift


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The Fall of Albums

The biggest differentiation of how the music industry has changed over the years can be found in physical/ digital album sales. Since its peak in 2000, the process of purchasing albums has fallen from 785 million to 240 million in 2015. While 15 years is a large gap, there are also many changes in technology to help better understand that fact. In the early 2000s, the main instruments for playing music came from vinyls/stereos, cassette tapes, and CD players. Starting in 2001, Apple launched its very first iPod Classic 1G. While not striking with fire, the iPod became a significant character in the transition from physical sales to online consumption.

An Example of Transition: iPod Sales Since 2001

Reasons for Apple's Success

The reason why Apple has become so successful can be viewed by their impact on the music industry. In 2001, with the creation of iTunes, Apple cornered the market of online music while also creating the iPod to go along with it. Instead of having to go out to a store to purchase the physical copy of your favorite music, Apple now created a way to purchase, download and store your music files onto a handheld, easy to use iPod. While Apple didn't necessarily start online downloads, they did jump on the opportunity to master the product while also guaranteeing the customer a safe experience as well. While other online services such as lime wire allowed people to download music for free, it was illegal to use and shut down permanently in 2010. Another example of how the RIAA (Record Industry Association of America) can protect the labels/ artists. As you can see, pictured above is the outlay of iPods sold since 2001, opening with at least 15,000,000 units sold in each opening quarter of a new release. This graph is important because it highlights the correlation of the iPod's success while the age of online downloading/ streaming took over.

"The suit, filed by the RIAA on behalf of eight major music publishers in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, charged LimeWire with facilitating 'pervasive online infringement.' It also accused LimeWire of allowing and actively encouraging users to participate in music piracy." -Sarah Jacobsson Purewal (

The New Age: Streams Hurting or Helping?

Now, we all know that the process of streaming music does make it easier for people to listen to music at a reasonable price, but the next topic of discussion has to do with the many different platforms of streaming we have. Below is a picture of various different streaming services and also includes there monthly listeners

Various Plans and Pricing

1.) Amazon Music Unlimited: Listeners pay $7.99 a month. Non-prime pay $9.99. The family plan is $14.99

2.) Apple Music: Prices are $4.99 a month for students, $9.99 for individuals, and $14.99 for the family plan

3.) Deezer: Free version, mobile device will cost $9.99 a month. family plan for 14.99

4.) Google Play Music: Google Play Music and YouTube Red combined cost $9.99 for an individual plan or $14.99 a month for a family plan with six accounts.

5.) Microsoft Groove Music - Formerly called Xbox/Zune Music. $9.99/ mo

6.) Spotify: "The free ad-supported plan does come with restrictions like lower quality audio and no download feature. Free users can only listen to albums and playlists on shuffle. Premium plans cost $4.99 for students, $9.99 for individuals, and $14.99 for a family plan with six accounts."

7.) Tidal - "Tidal's claim to fame is its high-quality Lossless High Fidelity (Hi-Fi) sound quality. This high-quality plan costs $19.99 a month, or $16.99 a month if you pre-pay for six months. To get the sound quality available on other services costs $9.99 a month, or $8.49 if you pre-pay for six months. The family plan is expensive. Regular sound quality costs $29.95 for up to four family members. The Tidal Hi-Fi plan costs $59.95 a month. Students pay $4.99 for regular quality and $9.99 for Hi-Fi. Members of the military pay $5.99 for regular and $11.99 for Hi-Fi."

Is the Free Version Worth It?

A big issue that comes across the board when discussing different streaming routes to take is the issue of free streaming versus paid streaming. In some cases such as Spotify, Pandora, SoundCloud etc., there is the option to use the service for free, but be subject to ads and various skips allowed if you don't like the song chosen for you. For some people, this is something that is very disruptive to their experience. It sets up a good discussion for how streaming came about, is the possible $10/month worth the money, or are the aggravating ads and playlists chose for you worth it? While it may seem annoying, the streaming services do need to make profit somehow, and the advertisements provide that income.

How Streaming Sales Effect Certifications

This video, to me, was very interesting. You can see that it becomes very difficult with streams and how they incorporate into judging how much an album has sold, or performed. In the above video, it explains how 1500 video or audio streams is packaged into ten tracks, or "one album sale." This one album sale would usually be about ten tracks from the artist which makes it a little confusing. Do you think this is a fair estimate? In my opinion, the artist could be seeing more than one traditional album sale with 1500 streams, and the numbers we may be seeing might be off from what we've been able to predict in years passed.

Jimmy Iovine's Impact

Jimmy Iovine, the producer-turned music legend is one of the most impactful figures when it comes to modern streaming. He has worked with musicians such as Dr. Dre, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Nicks, and many many more. Here is an interesting excerpt from that explains this further:

"Iovine remains concerned that there is too much free music available — and YouTube, he says, is the biggest challenge. The site is “a massive problem for the record industry . . . it represents something like 50 per cent of all music consumption but only four or five per cent of the revenue. How does that work?” He is concerned too about changes to the industry’s business model — the fact that big acts can now make much more from international touring than from recorded music sales. “There are so many places to play now. Play Dubai and you might make half a million dollars — ‘Oh, that’s more money than I’m going to make on my entire album.’” If acts are touring all the time and playing their hits, the quality of new music will inevitably suffer. “Not everybody does that. Kendrick Lamar, Ed Sheeran, Adele . . . they stopped touring and made their record.”

So, not only is the artist being financially effected by the new process or streaming payments, but now their material could suffer as well. The balance of wanting to be on tour because you make more revenue on shows, and taking the time to make the content efficiently and at the same level as before is not only difficult but exhausting as well.

Just a suggested watch: The Defiant Ones Trailer (HBO)- Explains the evolution of Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre, Two Music Pioneers


Ever since the year 2000, the way we listen to music has changed immensely. We have gone from camping out at our closest Newbury Comics, F.Y.E, and other music stores, to now being at the leisure of having every published artist at your fingertips from home. But every step of the way was laced with complications, improvements, and memories that will bring you back to a certain time or place. We all remember that first cassette player (or whatever it may be) that we got when we were younger. The question that we have to ask is what comes next. In an age where the artists are searching for more control over content, the streaming services are doing there best to be serviceable to as many customers as they can. And as consumers, we are caught in the middle. Some artists begin to side with certain streaming companies, while others stay faithful to their own. This results in the listeners to require multiple apps that provide different services with different artists, and the worst part of all: different subscription requirements. Instead of paying $10 a month, some faithful fans are stretched across two- three different platforms paying for each per month. You can point fingers in many directions, but the reality of the situation is there can always be improvement, and the music industry is just getting started when it comes to evolving for the better, and hopefully not the worse.


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