(Hypebot) – Whenever news hits regarding Spotify or Pandora, in particular, many musicians express their displeasure through whatever outlet they have. In the U.S. most of this self-expression does little to affect the actual outcome of corporate or political decisions because American artists are generally incapable of collective organization for such change. But there are services that represent an alternative to Spotify and Pandora, offer a better business deal for musicians and could be collectively approached by like-minded musicians as a business move resulting in a win-win for everyone involved.
Given the lack of transparency of streaming music services, especially Spotify, and the differences in licensing music for terrestrial and web radio, as in the case of Pandora, it's understandable that there's a lot of confusion and turmoil among musicians over what's fair and what should be done to help artists. Yet the reality is that musicians in the U.S. are poorly organized, in part due to America's history of anti-unionism and cultural bias towards individualism, and are unlikely to stage an organized political response to the situation.
That means that outspoken individuals will continue to have a disproportionate voice in the debate with most musicians relegated to complaining in the comments sections of blogs and on social media.
You Don't Have to Give Up Streaming Music
But there is another path available for those who feel that both Spotify and Pandora represent unfair options for musicians yet don't want to give up streaming music and find YouTube and SoundCloud inadequate to meet either the needs of their fans or their own revenue needs.
If musicians began to focus their efforts on joining and helping build streaming music and related download services that are focused on greater transparency and a wider range of opportunities for monetization, they could not only improve their situation but would ensure the survival of businesses that face a difficult path in coming years. And shouldn't support be a two-way street?
Given the fact that there is money to be made rather than politicians to be swayed, such services offer an opportunity for mass action on the part of DIY and indie musicians to take better control of streaming media in order to both serve their fans and monetize their music.
Whether or not this alternative path should include such steps as removing one's music from Spotify could still be left up to individuals and indie labels.
Taking An Alternative Route
Individuals musicians can certainly provide various streaming options on their own sites or links to their songs on other sites and do so in a way that fits the current needs of fans for instant access on multiple devices with free options, ad-supported or not. But the appeal of such services as Spotify is the range of music available that allows one band's fans to listen to what they want including but not limited to that band's music.
While rights holders of music that tops the charts will certainly benefit from Spotify and their listeners will want to find them there, artists who represent clear niches, especially those with clearly identifiable subcultures, may do much better on alternative platforms.
Such platforms could include streaming radio services that directly license music from indies, provide stats and direct contact points for listeners of specific acts and offer opportunities for music, merch and ticket sales.
These platforms may not pay musicians directly for streams but make up for it by supporting direct contact with fans and offering opportunities for other forms of monetization. They are likely to be more valuable to strong niche players than a platform like Spotify.
Two services that I've written about and are in various stages of development but point to the possibilities include Earbits and Orastream. See the articles linked at the end of this post for more on these services.
I'm not saying they're the best, though I'm becoming a big fan of what Earbits is attempting, and they're certainly not the only ones making such moves but they provide a point of reference.
Collective Action May Be Most Successful in Niches and Subgenres
Here's the thing, individual acts can certainly sign up but that's not where the most powerful possiblities lie.
For example, if you're part of a musical niche with fans that obsess over your subsection of a genre, then just putting your music on a service like Earbits wouldn't represent an important move. But if you and all the other cult artists within your niche agreed to join the same service and let all your fans know that you can find all the main acts in the niche on that service, then everyone involved will benefit.
In fact, a really smart group of artists would get organized and approach a streaming service such as Earbits or OraStream and negotiate a joint marketing campaign with a special section on the site or app. Given that such services already use tools like playlists and organize by genre, such a move might well be welcomed without requiring extensive negotiation.
As a music fan I'm currently checking for ambient and noise acts via a variety of sources, usually blogs and cassette labels that stream on BandCamp. There may be web radio that features those genres but I haven't encountered one and a lot of that music isn't even going to be found on Spotify or Pandora. So if a broad range of ambient artists joined a specific service, not commercial New Age or background music but the other stuff, then I would definitely check it out to see if it met my needs.
This is also an approach that a label representing a strong niche or subgenre could do as a label and do well. Such labels as Stones Throw and Sub Pop come readily to mind though many others would fit the bill.
I'm sure you get the idea by now. I'd love to hear about related services and strategies that you think might work for artists taking this approach as well as your thoughts on other possible positive steps forward.