In 2016, the easiest way to listen to a newly released album is on your phone. With streaming services such as Apple Music, Spotify and Tidal providing access to thousands of artists in mere seconds, you have to question whether CDs will be prevalent in the near future.
Digital sales eclipsed CDs for the first time in 2014 and the number has only grown since then. With more and more artists each year relying on exclusively streamed albums for their income, I believe that this market will reduce CDs to vintage collectibles that your parents once cherished.
Billboard announced in 2014 that it would revamp its album charts to include digital streams, providing a more comprehensive method of album sales. This change has resulted in Rihanna’s latest album, “Anti,” becoming RIAA certified platinum, which indicates that the record has sold one million copies, without a single physical sale. Chance the Rapper’s third mixtape, “Coloring Book,” was released exclusively on Apple Music and was streamed over 57 million times in one week. This equated to 37,000 album sales and a debut at No. 8 on the Billboard 200. Digital streaming being counted in album sales is truly changing the game in the music industry, and I believe for the better.
While digital albums have been overall successful, they have brought about questions about exclusive streaming, paying artists and the cost to consumers. 2016 has been the year of exclusive streaming, as artists such as Kanye West, Beyoncé and Frank Ocean utilized this method when they released their respective works. Kanye West was the strongest advocate of this. As a shareholder in the streaming site Tidal, the controversial rapper vowed never to release “The Life of Pablo” on iTunes. However, the record appeared on iTunes and Spotify about a month after its release.
Exclusive streaming allows a service the sole ability to release an album. Music streaming is an enormous business with over 100 million people using platforms such as Spotify and iTunes. More than one million people created accounts on Tidal when Beyoncé exclusively streamed “Lemonade” on the network for a week. Exclusives can be either a certain amount of time such as 24 hours or hold the streaming rights of an album indefinitely. This has created battles between artists and streaming companies and this may not be benefiting fans.
Exclusive streaming means that fans will need to continue to pay a certain amount a month to use a particular platform to listen to an artist. So if you wanted to be the first to listen to “Blonde,” Ocean’s exclusive album, you need Apple Music. If you wanted “Lemonade” or “The Life of Pablo,” you went with Tidal. Even the video streaming site YouTube has created a form of streaming in an attempt to get in on the action. A poll conducted by The Verge found that a majority of fans find that exclusive streaming hinders their listening experience.
Spotify does not take part in exclusives but appears to blacklist artists that use it on other platforms. When “Blonde” was put on Spotify after its exclusive deal with Apple Music was completed, you could not find the album unless it was specifically searched for. It did not appear on the new music charts or pop up when listening to similar music. This manipulation is only further hindering fans from finding artists and listening to newly released music.
This streaming war arose out of companies such as Spotify paying artist dismal amounts of money every time their records were streamed. Tidal was formed by artists such as Jay-Z, Chris Martin and Rihanna to give artists a fair share of their earnings. While Tidal is more expensive than Spotify and Apple Music, I understand that it is important that artists are able to make a living, and paying to stream music is a cheaper and easier method of listening to music than buying CDs.
With all of these platforms on the internet, why are people still releasing music on CDs? Many have argued that it is easier for new bands to release music using this method due to the inexpensive cost and distribution. CDs cost about a dollar each to produce and you can even hand them out to strangers on the street if you are that desperate for attention. Listeners also reference nostalgia and better listening quality on CDs. Western ideals about ownership drive people to want to physically possess what they are listening to rather than pay a fixed price every month to continue to have the same access.
In contrast, the competitiveness of digital streaming results in newer artists becoming lost in the sea of search engines and genres. Thus, while they are not as popular as it used to, CDs still provide a substantial method for listening to new music and they are helpful for those long car rides if you don’t have an aux cord.
Overall, whether streaming companies continue to fight over artists or CDs make a comeback, fans just want to support the artists that they love. I personally have bounced through different platforms and pay for whichever one is offering the best deal. It doesn’t matter where I am listening but rather whether I can hear my favorite artists through my earbuds.