Do you have renter’s insurance? No? Well, soon you might need it.
The music industry is slowly but surely transitioning from an ownership model to a renter’s model – for a monthly fee we get the privilege of streaming our favorite tunes. The “privilege.” And when I say “our tunes” I don’t really mean it like we own it. We don’t actually own anything in the streaming world: at anytime “our” music can be taken away from us, with zero notice and for any reason. Scary, huh?
Despite the fact that 2016 was just an awful year for music with respect to the number of deaths of so many beloved artists, its passing also didn’t augur well for personal music ownership. For the first time streaming overtook digital music sales here in the US, lead by platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music, and Google Play. Ironically, the best selling streaming artist was Prince. Although not to be completely outdone, the best selling artist on CD was Mozart.
What’s worse is that the audiophile industry generally seems OK with all of this. Every day I read about the virtues of lossless streaming a la TIDAL and hear John Darko extol the virtues of Roon or Audirvana+. I have nothing against these technologies per se other than TIDAL’s days are probably numbered, especially once Spotify goes lossless. And then where does that leave Roon? Though Roon is indeed a very nice piece of software, I’m not going to rent my playback engine on top of renting my music too. Then my life will truly be “Roon-ed.”
Am I a luddite? Will it really be that bad? Companies like Apple and Spotify aren’t going out of business anytime soon so our music will be safe even if we only access it from the cloud. Right?
Let’s pretend for a moment that all of “our” music is tied to a single account and that account gets hacked. How are you going to recover potentially years of custom playlists and favorited songs, not to mention the various helpful analytics collected over those years of use? You’re not.
Let’s pretend that when streaming finally becomes the uber dominant force in music supply, the major record labels will do what they do best: cry for more royalties from streaming providers. And let’s further suppose that our provider of choice throws a tantrum and decides to take down a label’s entire roster from. Remember Purple Rain? Oh wait, no you won’t.
A complicated contract negotiation between label and streaming company might lead us staring at a gaping hole in “our” music collection. Prince’s music was Tidal only until after his death. The same is partially true of Neil “Pono” Young. He took his entire catalog down from streaming services in 2012 only to have it reinstated a year or so later. Then there are the time-limited or provider-restricted exclusives. Recent releases from Kanye West (initially Tidal only) and Drake (Apple Music only) punished fans for choosing one streaming service over another and may, in turn, have cause some to turn to piracy.
If we pretend that the concept of net neutrality doesn’t exist and because we are “heavy streamers” (read: you listen to music), many ISPs may decide that we need to pay a little extra in order to guarantee network throughput for our lossless streams. Now we get to rent our music, our playback engine, and a little extra bandwidth too, all so that we may enjoy our favorite Weird Al tune anywhere in the world at the drop of a hat. Tacky.
Isn’t life just grand for the future audiophile streamer?
As an upstanding audiophile, not owning music I also find upsetting. I actually enjoy curating my own music collection; and I don’t need an algorithm to tell me that if I headbang to Havok I probably headbang to Warbringer too. I already know that thrash you very much.
Is curating one’s own personal music collection not fundamental to the audiophile experience. I know I have always taken pride in the fact that I have the biggest metal collection within my own “anti-social” network. This was true even back in grade school when I used to save lunch money so I could run to the record store to pick up the latest underground metal release. In other words, I had to work for my massive metal collection I curate today. Nowadays, I’m on Bandcamp. If the album’s there, I suck down those FLAC files faster than you can say “M-Q-A.” And it feels good every single time I do it.
I know that once those FLACs have been added to my collection, no one can take them away from me. If the record company or streaming provider goes belly up, I don’t inherit their problems. If my favorite artist decides overnight that streaming is the devil’s work and pulls his/her catalogue, not my problem. My music collection will always be waiting for me whenever I want and with no strings attached. Can you say the same about your TIDAL account?
Just because streaming is incredibly convenient and easy to use – and, in some quarters, lossless – doesn’t mean we should stop buying music.
You can read more of Alex’s robust opinions over at his own Metal-Fi.