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Decade in Streaming: How It Changed the Way We Make and Listen to Music

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Music is one of the few things that people from all over the world, from different generations and different backgrounds can join in on the conversation and share their stories. You can share about your favorite artist, when you first heard your favorite song, or even when you went to your first concert, and no matter the year, you can find something to relate to in each story. And with evolving technology, the shared story of music has expanded greatly.
The conversations have changed over the last 10 years because the music industry has seen some radical updates. In 2009, going to Target or Walmart to buy the newest album was still the norm for most people. However, that trend would fade by the end of the decade. Now paying a monthly fee for a subscription music service that gives you access to the latest music is mainstream.
Donald Passam, author of All You Need to Know About the Music Business, released the first edition of the book in 1999 and has updated it every three years. He told Cheddar "streaming has changed the music business more radically than ever before in its history."
Streaming certainly didn't begin in 2009. In fact, the streaming revolution began in 1999 with the highly-popular digital music sharing network 'Napster' that allowed users to download music for free. But the initial craze did not last long.
Only a year into its beginning, the company was hit with lawsuits from artists like Dr. Dre and Metallica for copyright infringement, and by 2002 the company was bankrupt. After the fall of Napster, Roxio bought the company and charged 99 cents for each downloadable song.
As digitizing music became increasingly popular, illegal services like Limewire and Kazaa also were hit with multiple copyright lawsuits from the recording industry and were shutdown. As the industry tried to figure out how to monetize its music legally online, physical music sales were on the decline.
Most recently, Congress passed the Ask Musicians for Music Act (AM-FM Act) that aims to rewrite copyright laws and would require digital services to ask music artists for permission to use their work. The House also passed the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act of 2019 (CASE Act) that would set up small claims courts to decide copyright cases.
It doesn't stop there, the Music Modernization Act was passed, ensuring songwriters get paid when digital services use their work.
According to the IFPI Digital Music Report, physical music sales were responsible for almost all of the music industry's revenue. When the 2019 Global Music report was released at the end of 2018, paid streaming services accounted for 37 percent of total recorded music revenue with 255 million users.
Pandora launched in 2005 and was one of the first free and legal streaming services that allowed users to listen to playlists from some of their favorite artists. The app was also the pioneer in creating curated playlists, a feature Spotify mimicked in its service after launching in 2008. By the time Apple Music launched this decade, in 2015, listeners were used to paying a monthly subscription fee to listen to music.
As these services gained momentum, artists like Taylor Swift who were unhappy with the emerging "music sharing" model, used their significant popularity to shape the industry. In 2014 Swift made the decision to remove all of her music from Spotify because of the huge impact on physical album sales. "It's my opinion that music should not be free, and every artist has handled this blow differently," she wrote in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal. "Piracy, file sharing and streaming have shrunk the numbers of paid album sales drastically," she continued.
According to the State of the Industry Report, by 2018, streaming accounted for 8.9 percent of revenue in the music industry versus 0.4 percent in 2009. While physical copies accounted for 10.5 percent in 2009, that dropped to 4.7 percent in 2018. Streaming helped grow digital revenues 21.1 percent in 2018, which pushed the U.S. across the $10 billion mark for the first time.
Streaming has had a major impact in all regions of the world, but Latin America had the highest rate of growth in 2018 with an overall increase of 39.3 percent, according to State of the Industry Report. CEO of Sony Music Latin Iberia said in the report that streaming has also allowed for artists to reach a wider audience. "With access to streaming, people are able to really take a deep dive into Latin music, and that is great for the artists and great for the culture."
Social media platforms also play a major role in streaming, so it shouldn't be a surprise that many platforms wanted to get a piece of the pie. But many struggled on how to get it right. In 2013, Twitter launched a standalone app called #Music, which was created to help users discover and share music, but the app was shut down just a year later.
Even though Twitter's stand alone app was not successful, the platform has become a place for artists to release major news for new releases. In 2013, after Beyoncé released her surprise self-titled album on iTunes, it generated 1.2 million tweets in just 12 hours. Before the release, there was plenty of buzz building on Twitter and other social media platforms.
For emerging artists, social media and other digital platforms are the best ⁠— and sometimes the easiest ⁠— way to grow their fan base. For example, rapper Soulja Boy's popularity spiked when he released his song Crank That on MySpace in 2007, years before social media became a requirement for artists. His song went viral, eventually landed him the top spot on Billboard's Hot 100 chart, and earned him a Grammy nomination for best rap song.
Artists today are still finding ways to use considerable and passionate social media followings to market their work. Just a year ago, artist and viral sensation Lil Nas X self-published his song Old Town Road on the audio-streaming service Soundcloud. It gained popularity through memes on social media platforms like Twitter and TikTok. The song eventually broke a Billboard record spending 17 weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 and won numerous prestigious awards across genres.
The shift in the music industry went from focusing on sales to focusing on streams, and that has allowed social media users to use the platforms as a tool to help artists increase their streaming numbers. For example, Vine launched in 2013 and the app helped artists like DJ Snake's Turn Down For What and Drake's Hotline Bling climb the charts after users helped the song to viral by using it in their videos.
In 2015, Jay-Z acquired the TIDAL brand, and re-launched it as a "service owned by artists." The streaming service held a star-studded press conference featuring artists like wife of Jay-Z and superstar in her own right, Beyoncé, along with Rihanna, Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, Daft Punk, and a slew of other celebrity artists. The service reported in 2016 to have three million subscribers.
After Vine shut down in 2016, Instagram emerged as a force in helping artists expand their streaming numbers. Users have created videos or "challenges" on the platform using an artist's song, helping it go viral ⁠— which, in turn, can increase the streams for the artist and allow them to reach a wider audience. Drake's In My Feelings remained number 1 on Billboard for 10 weeks with the help of social media influencer and actor Shiggy, who went viral after creating the In My Feelings Challenge that has more than seven million views on Instagram.
Now that streaming has become the largest form of revenue for the music industry, artists and record labels will have to continue to adapt to this new landscape. "I think the major shift has already happened. I think streaming is going to be the dominant way of monetizing music for a while," Passam said.
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