When Apple Music launched earlier this year, streaming, essentially, became the music consumption model du jour. That is, if Apple — the arbiter of what is acceptable in tech — were in the game, it mattered. But does Apple’s entry into a Spotify-dominated field signal that streaming is here to stay?
In a seemingly never-ending PR war, Spotify and Apple Music (and Tidal, lol) release stats revealing that their company is the greatest fucking thing ever. For example, an early October report suggested that Spotify would soon eclipse 100 million users. That followed June news that the service had reached 75 million users. Only 20 million of them, however, paid for the premium subscription.
Apple Music is newer than Spotify, so it has fewer subscribers: just 15 million in October. Unlike Spotify, though, Apple Music offered a free trial without a free option after that three-month window closed. But, as of that October report, 6.5 million users (out of the 15 million) had opted to pay for Apple Music. Proportionally, it’s doing much better than Spotify.
Recently, Apple Music, is also showing off its app growth, which had a 26 percent increase in users since last year. Somehow, that doesn’t make much sense since Apple Music did not exist in 2014.
The news that trickles out indicates that streaming is more than a passing phase but the next wave of listening. But does that mean people actually prefer it to passive listening experiences, like online radio? Pandora, the internet’s preeminent radio service, revealed that users listened to hundreds of billions of songs on the service in 2014. That news, however, came along with the U.S. Copyright Royalty Board’s announcement that Pandora would have to pay more for those streams, putting the company’s future in danger. Still, the numbers show that people really just want to hear something, and are a bit less concerned about what that is than the big three streaming services would like you to believe.
The other problem that streaming services have faced lately is that certain superstar artists don’t want their music available for free. Nearly all the streaming money goes to the labels — not the artists — and that payday is miniscule at best, as well. In order to entice those select artists (namely Adele and Taylor Swift), Spotify, for one, is considering making them premium-only options. The business of labels screwing over artists, however, is not new and will not likely force the streaming industry to crumble. Nevertheless, it’s notable that artists are noticing that their streaming return does not match the output.
So streaming’s future really comes down to listeners’ interest in hearing music they’ve picked themselves. People really like Pandora — which is free — so Apple Music and Spotify should beef up their radio and curation offerings for people who just want to be fed music at no cost. Artists don’t get anything out of streaming — except for exposure, but that is fairly immeasurable — so if fans get less and less out of it, as well, then what’s left for the service providers?