We love subscription music services. We think they're how we'll all be listening to music in the future. But one of the major unanswered questions for them is how sustainable they are--do the artists get paid enough for them to become the dominant way we get our music? The Black Keys don't list their new albums, saying they lose money by doing so. And David Lowery, lead singer for Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker, became just the most recent to claim Spotify, Rdio, and the rest are underpaying artists (or labels). The latest: Evolver.fm has a big piece about the viability of streaming services. Some good information in here! Although I'm still not convinced the current system is a fair one for artists--seems like there are major issues with timeliness of payment and with the cut taken by the labels. Check it out here.
According to the RIAA's yearly sales report, which was released this week, this year for the first time Americans are buying as much digital as physical music. Great!
But here's the thing: people are buying digital (meaning, without a physical aspect, unlike a CD, which is also digital) music in all the wrong ways. The vast majority of this music is being bought as iTunes-style downloads. But, my friends, subscriptions are the best, most futuristic option for buying music right now--and they're dirt cheap.
Living in the Future is a new column about those rare moments, as we go about our daily lives, when we realize that what we're doing is amazing. These days, we have a tendency to assimilate new tech into our lives without giving it much thought, much less gratitude, as Louis C.K. reminds us. But every once in awhile, we're struck by a moment, as visceral as it is literally incredible: "Wow. I can't believe this is possible."
A few weeks ago, I went on a road trip up to the Berkshires, in western Massachusetts, near the Vermont border. The car, one of those odd little Volvo hatchbacks, was packed full of camping gear, food, beer, and four people entirely too tall to be sitting in a car the size and shape of a bathtub. We were all hungover, a necessary next-day result of meeting college friends and "showing them New York." Between the two front seats was a banjo. On every lap was a jumbo-sized Gatorade.
But we needed music.
When Spotify launched in the U.S., it came with a ton of hype and momentum, but not actually a ton of improvements over our homegrown services, namely Rdio and MOG. The big difference, the difference that all the analysts said would finally allow subscription services to make it big in this wonderful, backwards country of ours, is Spotify's free service. And now Rdio and MOG have debuted their own free versions.
Subscription music services, in which you pay a monthly fee (usually around $10) and get unlimited access to a huge music catalog, aren't new. Here in the States, we have Rdio, Rhapsody, Zune, MOG, and Napster, none of which have come anywhere close to supplanting iTunes, whose a la carte music purchasing store is the dominant digital music venue in the country. But not so in Europe, where a service called Spotify, one not so different from, say, Rdio, is without doubt the default way for the digitally-minded to get their music.