By Adel Saafan, contributing writer
Throughout the years, the way that consumers listen to music has rapidly changed. From playing vinyl records on a record player, to playing CD’s on Walkman players, to listening to digital music on iPods; music has gone through a rapid transformation due to many technological advances that enable the listener to enjoy the music listening experience. In recent years, a new format has emerged that has changed up the way that we listen to music: streaming. Streaming music is the most accessible way of listening to music. From your smartphone, laptop or tablet, you could pull up any music streaming service and listen to a countless amount of music. You could type in your favorite artist and find all of their songs and albums that are ready to be played. Streaming has also provided listeners a new way of discovering music. The listener has access to millions of songs and thousands of artists that span different decades and genres. With its convenience and its copious amount of musical content, streaming is shifting the way that we access music. Streaming is also changing the music industry as a whole. With the declining sales of music and the presence of music piracy, record companies are investing more into music streaming in order to make a profit. Streaming services have also created deals with artists so that their music is exclusive to a specific streaming service. Among the many music streaming services, three have stood out the most: Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal.
Spotify is the oldest of the streaming services since its inception in the United States in July 2011. It has the broadest user base among the three with 75 million users. Spotify has three different pricing options: free use, a $4.99 student discount for their premium service and $9.99 for their premium service. For the free subscription on computer and tablet devices, users can play any song in Spotify’s 30 million song catalog on-demand. But users must view and listen to advertisements that interrupt their listening experience. Spotify’s premium tier gives users unlimited music across all of their devices including smartphones, tablets and TVs. Users can also temporarily download songs to their devices for listening on subways or airplanes, play music at the highest quality and are never shown advertisements. If you are patient enough to sit through advertisements, then Spotify is the best value for a consumer since you don’t have to pay for its service. Unfortunately, due to contractual deals, some artists are not found on Spotify or newly released albums may not show up on Spotify for several weeks.
The next streaming service is Apple Music. It is the newest of the three with its launch in June 2015. It consists of 11 million paid subscribers. There are two pricing subscriptions: $9.99 per month or a family plan that is $14.99 per month, where you can add up to six people who can have access to Apple Music’s music content on any Apple device. What makes Apple Music more attractive is their exclusive content. Specific music artists and music figures host some of their own radio shows, such as Pharrell, Elton John and DJ Khaled, who also curate their own playlists. Artists also release content such as exclusive performances, interviews and behind the scenes footage so that the user can look into their favorite artist’s creative process. The biggest factor for Apple Music being a strong service is their artist exclusivity. Artists like Taylor Swift and Drake have made their music available to stream exclusively on Apple Music or have released new music on there first.
The final music streaming service is Tidal, which is owned by Jay Z. It has the least amount of users with just around 1 million subscribers. The goal of Tidal is to provide listeners with the best streaming quality music and to enable support for the artists, songwriters, producers and recording engineers who are instrumental in the music creating process. “The challenge is to get everyone to respect music again, to recognize its value,” Jay Z says. “Water is free. Music is $6, but no one wants to pay for music. You should drink free water from the tap — it’s a beautiful thing. And if you want to hear the most beautiful song, then support the artist.” There are two pricing options: $9.99 for its premium service and $19.99 for Tidal HiFi, which offers higher fidelity quality sound. Both options are advertisement-free with no interruptions. All subscribers have access to music and exclusive videos on demand. In addition, they get access to Tidal X, a program that gives artists a platform to connect with their fans through special events, including concerts. Tidal is also known for its exclusivity with artist releases too. Beyonce, Kanye West and Rihanna have made their most recent music and albums as Tidal exclusives. Recently, when Kanye West released his newest album, the amount of Tidal subscribers nearly doubled from 1 million to 2.5 million users, with $15 million in additional revenue.
Competition is high between music streaming services. It’s very similar to the console wars for video games: in order to gain dominance within the video game market, each video game console has its own exclusive games and content. All of these streaming services are trying to gain an advantage within the music streaming market. Each of these services have their own advantages, whether it’s content availability or pricing options. Is the consumer willing to pay a certain amount for a monthly subscription? Will the consumer switch over to another music streaming service because their old streaming service doesn’t have a specific artist that they like? Will the consumer end up using multiple streaming services? It’s up to the consumer to decide which music streaming service is best for them. In the end, streaming music is beneficial to the music industry. People are not purchasing music as much like they used to in the past. When people pirate music, it takes away from the hard work that these artists, producers and engineers put into the creation of music. Music is art and it’s being devalued when no one is willing to pay for it. For the people who don’t buy music, the best that they can do is to subscribe to a music streaming service so that the artists can be compensated. Even if each stream you play pays the artist a fraction of a dollar, consumers are still helping out and returning the favor back to the artist.
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