Music Market and Streaming in 2024

by | Jun 7, 2024 | Fanposts

In 2020, I re-entered the music market after 25 years of musical absence. Having recently stopped producing music, I would like to offer you a brief summary of my experiences in this market.

The first thing to note is that performing music is different from producing and marketing music. In my first career as a professional trumpet player, I mainly worked in the first field. Recognising this is very important for the consequences. While I used to be more involved with the music, in my second “career” this shifted strongly towards marketing, which is not necessarily a joyful endeavour for a musician. Nevertheless, I have learnt something.

The music market is basically a market like any other. There are producers and consumers. The greater the consumer demand for a product, the greater the likelihood of profit for the producer, but what does “demand” mean in the context of music, or even art? I won’t go into details here, but it is clear that in the case of a high artistic share in music production, this simple calculation becomes much more complicated. In a very simplified view, the first question is: “Do you mainly make music for everyday use (relaxation, dance, sound reinforcement, etc.), or do you have artistic aspirations?”. It should be clear to everyone that there are fluid transitions. That has always been the case!

The second fact is that with electronic music production, the figure of the producer as a one-person entity from the creative process to marketing has become established and the pure production costs have plummeted. For example, I used to produce in my living room on a standard computer. The result is a huge increase in the range of products on offer. This is a disaster for the market. To make matters worse, in the age of streaming and social media, the barrier to publication has fallen to the level of a minimal doorstep.

Since creative activity is obviously a need for many people, the visible supply (not only in music) is now swelling. Competition for the attention of an audience is becoming increasingly fierce and also more costly. This calls other market participants onto the scene who recognise this need and see their profit opportunity there – the promoters. This advertising market is growing with the number of producers, but there is a catch. The number of consumers is not growing at the same rate and, as only profits flow into advertising in the long term, the profit opportunities are increasingly drying up for the majority of all market participants. The fact that fraud is now coming into play is a dark side of human nature but nothing really new.

It’s rather pointless to get worked up about the practices of Spotify and other market players if you don’t look at the matter morally (which is perfectly legitimate and desirable) but use it to draw your own conclusions. So at some point I asked myself what I was really upset about as a music producer. As a professionally trained musician, I could simply produce music in line with the market, the characteristics of which are quite recognisable and even lead to quite nice profits in my immediate environment of colleagues. Theoretically, this is a very simple path that I have taken hundreds of times in my career as a trumpet player. But it hasn’t satisfied me at all, and that’s essentially what an artist is all about. The work has to fit the artist’s soul.

But that’s only one side of the coin, because every artist also wants an audience and has to be able to pay his bills. Assuming that he has really managed to achieve harmony between the work and the artist’s soul (which is certainly not easy), the second step is to attract an audience. He can now apply to publishers, labels or managers, which, however, requires recognisable signs of success due to the market saturation described above and this is where the cat bites its own tail, because even at this point an unbridgeable gap can open up between the artist’s claim and the expectations of the multipliers, which can hardly be closed by DIY (Do It Yourself). Unfortunately, even an available advertising budget often doesn’t help, because in the long term an audience must be won over at some point who will consume the work out of conviction, otherwise financial ruin threatens.

The very practical challenge for the independent solo artist is to correctly interpret the results of their own various advertising measures. The fact that you can hardly tell the difference between genuine and fraudulent advertising is not exactly helpful. Promoters have long since adapted their strategies to Spotify’s rigorous measures and made it even more difficult to recognise them. The goal of the platforms and major labels is clearly a market shakeout. The “amateurs” are to disappear from the market in order to give the “professionals” more opportunities again. Spotify’s argument is exactly the same. Two imaginary bathtubs are being set up and you should now be put in the right one. This leads to collateral damage, which is always to the detriment of the producers who are placed in the amateur bathtub. But who puts whom in which tub? An algorithm does it – an artificial intelligence! AI can now do a great deal, but it’s not really good at recognising the nature of art.

In the old world, a powerful advocate could help artists to launch a career, which subsequently turned into respectable audience figures. However, if the lead-up and the aftermath are interchanged in the judgement, we artists have a not insignificant problem. The only solution to this problem would be if we could try to address an audience ourselves. You can actually narrow down a likely audience through research, but in the case of art that remains pretty fuzzy. So you could use a mini version of the shotgun tactic of the major labels, which shoots in all directions at great expense and then determines the possible target group from the reaction. How does Spotify, for example, react to similar attempts by independent artists?

We respect the latest Spotify rules and consciously avoid all offers that guarantee plays. The promoters have also adapted to this and offer corresponding services. There are promoters who have built up lists of interested music listeners over the years (they say – and why shouldn’t that be possible?) and who “send out” your music to these listeners for a fee – that’s all they guarantee! Of course, these listeners have not been subjected to any kind of attitude test, i.e. they are “tasteless” so to speak. The promoter’s effort could be a mailing offered at a reasonable “mini-shotgun price”. Since these listeners have at least somehow outed themselves as “interested in music”, it is to be expected that they will actually “listen” to the song once at a percentage X – and that’s all we expect.

We now know from various publications that the algorithm records how long the listener listens to a song. This results in a so-called skip rate, which is stored for the algorithmic evaluation of the song. From my own experience, I know that only a few of the listeners I reach are really interested in my music, but at least there are a few. What more could I want! However, with every such action, I slip more and more into the amateur trough and also into the much more dangerous fake trough. The same mechanism plays out when I slip through numbers into a shotgun system organised by Spotify itself, namely the algorithmic playlists. Skip rate remains skip rate.

It’s a self-confirming system! Rather unsuitable for art. Unfortunately, human curators have now surrendered to this system to such an extent that they no longer grant access to the system even for money. That is a problem, but it is so general that I would count it among the unavoidable shortcomings of new systems. But what annoys me personally about the situation caused by all these points? Let me put it in a nutshell.

I am a music professional, which is proven by my personal history and university diplomas. As such, I claim to act like a professional on the market. As an independent artist, it is in my legitimate interest to use the same distribution methods as major labels. The fact that I can only do this to a limited extent due to a lack of financial resources is enough of a restriction. Like any professional would do, I use the services of third parties for promotion. Checking the usefulness of these services with an assessment of their recognisable legitimacy must be sufficient, because it is not one of my tasks to avoid fraud on the part of third parties. After all, anyone can promote my public songs without my consent. Managements also call on fans of stars to loop a song as often as possible in order to increase their “joint” success. These are nothing more than human bots. A fan of a product can promote this product out of pure enthusiasm as they see fit without asking the rights holder for permission, as long as the rights holder does not explicitly oppose this on the basis of a trade mark right. If these rights are denied to me through the back door, this is not only a legal problem, but also a moral one, because the judgement is made by machines and without any human justification. Stoking fear by using all the usual advertising tools is simply a mess. An economic problem that is clearly caused by the streaming business models is not my problem!

It’s my problem if my songs don’t find favour. I have to bear the consequences myself. It’s painful, but it’s fair. The point at which I draw these consequences from an audience reaction is entirely up to me. Even a song that wasn’t very popular at the beginning can find interest later on. As long as I don’t drop the song, I can promote it for as long as I like. The fact that campaigns create attention peaks is the real purpose of every advertising campaign! The fact that the streaming portals have to pay royalties for this is a question of copyright and other rights. The fact that the algorithms sense fraud at every peak is again not my problem. Whatever is behind it, it’s not my problem! The portals are exercising a certain “domiciliary right” and they are entitled to do so. But now that the radio stations have surrendered to pure commerce, the streaming portals were a glimmer of hope that is now dimming again for many artists.

I’ve drawn my conclusions and stopped producing music because the already difficult task of finding an audience is even more limited. If I spend more on an advertising campaign than I am likely to earn from it, I must at least be able to do so with confidence in the quality of my music, as often as I want and can. I won’t let the mantle of a potential fraudster hang around my neck. I will continue to advertise the tracks I have already produced for as long as I want and use services that offer me meaningful advertising without the use of bots at reasonable prices. I will be watching the reactions of market participants with interest. Whatever happens, I am and will remain a music professional – full stop.

Captain Entprima

Club of Eclectics
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