In 2016, music flowed freely, and it all streamed down from a great cloud of data in the sky.
According to a report by Nielsen Music, music consumption was at an all-time high in 2016, helped by a 76% increase in on-demand audio streams. Even a comparison between different digital music formats (streaming vs paid downloads) saw streaming emerging as king; a separate statement by US Music Industry Report BuzzAngle noted that there were 1.2 billion streams per day in 2016 as compared to 734 million downloads total for the entire year.
In Malaysia, music fans have a choice of streaming their music via several platforms.
There’s Yonder Music, which is a partnership between Celcom Axiata Berhad and New York-based Yonder Music Inc, giving Celcom users exclusive access to approximately 20 million music tracks.
There’s Taiwan-based KKBOX, which specialises in Asian music, and international platforms like Apple Music, Joox, Tidal, Raku, and of course, Spotify, which is considered the pioneering brand in the music streaming business.
Calling music streaming a “game changer”, Warner Music Malaysia managing director Darren Choy said the biggest benefit of digital music – and streaming in particular – is that you can go anywhere with your music and listen to it anytime you want to.
“Gone are the days when you had to sit at home next to a radio to enjoy your music – today, all you need to enjoy your favourite music is a phone and a data plan,” Choy said, adding that it is all part of the music industry’s pattern of evolution.
“When cassette sales went down, CD sales went up. Now, digital is going up, while the sale of CDs are going down.
“This was a problem for us maybe two years ago, when the labels were still depending on CD sales. But that has now been offset by a significant amount of growth in the digital format,” Choy added.
From the artiste and music producers point of view, Paul Morrison – owner and music director of Maveriq Studios in Petaling Jaya – reckons that streaming IS the future of music.
“For independent artistes and labels, streaming has given us a massive reach for a lot less effort. We can just sit at a computer, upload it, and use all the platforms to get our music to the world. People don’t need to buy 10 CDs to listen to your stuff anymore. I always tell people not to waste their time printing CDs,” Morrison offered.
Maveriq is a locally based company that specialises in audio post-production and sound design, and has provided artiste-related services for musicians such as Malaysia’s Froya and Australia’s Gabriel Lynch.
Ben Willis, co-founder of US indie label Indie-pop and Yuna’s international manager for the past six years, says it is easier for artistes to reach a mainstream audience with streaming services.
He gave the example of Yuna, whose duet with Usher, Crush, currently has over 29 million streams on Spotify.
Thanks to Crush, Usher fans are now Yuna fans, and there is a spillover effect from the popularity of Crush over to her other songs. “Let’s say 100 people listen to Crush and 10 of them decide to listen to her album (Chapters) as well. That’s a win, because we wouldn’t have gotten that before,” said Willis during an interview at the recent Guinness Amplify event, in which he was one of the guest speakers, along with Morrison.
According to Sunita Kaur, managing director of Spotify Asia, Malaysians spend an average of 148 minutes a day listening to music on Spotify, with Yuna being the most-streamed Malaysia artiste of 2016, followed by Projector Band, Sufian Suhaimi, Akim And The Majistret and SonaOne.
“Local content is very relevant to us. When we launched Spotify here three years ago, we didn’t want to launch ‘Spotify IN Malaysia’, we wanted to launch ‘Spotify Malaysia’,” said Sunita, adding that Spotify Malaysia has a music editor who puts “human touches” to what’s on playlists, which include stuff like “Before Tidur”, “Lepak Weekend”, “Rock Jiwang”, which is one of the most popular features on the platform.
Universal Music group managing director for Malaysia and Singapore Kenny Ong agreed that this sort of “intelligent curation” plays a key role in discovery and allows new and developing artistes to expand their fanbase.
“The playlists and targeted curation also give fans a chance to rediscover heritage artistes and to explore different genres,” Ong said. “More than two-thirds of subscribers to streaming services report that they regularly use playlists and other forms of curation.”
Ong also reckoned that one of the most important aspects of music streaming is the fact that it creates a licensed and legal eco-system.
“Streaming platforms have created a business model that compensates our artistes, songwriters and labels every time someone listens to one of their songs. In turn, our labels are able to invest heavily in discovering and developing new artistes, both globally and here in Malaysia,” Ong explained.
One of the more contentious arguments against music streaming has come from the artistes themselves. For instance, Taylor Swift infamously pulled all her music from Spotify back in 2014, opining that music should not be free, and that having their music available for free on the streaming site could hurt music sales.
In terms of royalties, it has been reported that artistes get slightly less than US$0.01 per stream on Spotify.
Now, for an artiste like Swift, who would probably get millions of streams a day, this would add up to quite a significant amount of money.
However, Choy reckons that for the average artiste, the revenue from royalties will probably not be very significant.
“When we sit down with an artiste, we do tell them that while streaming is an important element, the revenue they get from it won’t be that much. You need millions and millions of streams before you can get a good amount of money,” he said.
Yonder Music founder and CEO Adam Kidron said that right now, the labels benefit the most from streaming, as they don’t have to bear the costs of producing physical products and thus enjoy higher margins. Consumers, who benefit by getting access to all that music.
“Artistes will benefit over time, especially from business models like the one Yonder uses, which shifts the responsibility from paying for music from reluctant consumers to mobile network operators and other commercial partners,” he said via an e-mail interview. “But very few artistes benefit from the traditional paid streaming model because most users still listen for free.”
While streaming platforms have made it easier for artistes to get their music out there, Morrison reckons that record labels and the traditional music business is still relevant. “A lot of artistes complain that the numbers are so low, and that they are not getting paid, but you still need to market your work, sell your products, set up gigs, and all that sort of thing. You can’t just post the song online and expect people to listen to it,” he said.
Sunita agreed: “I couldn’t imagine a world without record labels! We work with over 300,00 labels across the world, and they’ve found the most amazing talents and the greatest musicians of all time.
“In the end, we are just a platform that provides music, so the artists and labels are the ones who provide us the content.”