Islands in the Stream: Thoughts on Spotify


This week I had my first experience with Spotify. It’s taken me a while to get with the times but I thought it would make writing album reviews far easier (and cheaper!). The music streaming service has a rapid increase in users in recent years. Last year saw over a 50% increase in it’s usage and the start of music streaming’s contribution to the song and album charts in the UK. It’s easy to see why it’s so popular, a vast expansive library of music ready to listen to free of charge at the push of a button. It’s the next big step in the evolution of music, but what does it mean for the industry as a whole?

Many are quick to disparage it and call it the death of the music industry. Apart from vinyl records, which make up only a few percent of music sales, the revenue from music sales has been steadily decreasing. People are buying fewer CDs and downloading less music. Illegal downloads, the easy accessibility of music on YouTube and recent financial downturn have been eating away at profits, and now the sudden rise of Spotify is perhaps the final nail in the coffin. Media giants HMV have narrowly avoided bankruptcy and many smaller businesses haven’t been so lucky.

As for the music industry itself, they’re getting by. In a sense music streaming services are like their undercover agents. Spotify makes money through advertisements or through premium subscriptions and around 70% of that money goes to the industry (though only a miniscule amount of that is paid to the artist, but that’s a rant for another day). In fact the free, easy to use streaming services are increasingly being used by people who would otherwise download music illegally and are therefore reducing the amount of money lost through music piracy.

Swings and roundabouts really. The music industry struggles on at the expense of your local High Street shops. But what does the future hold; will these trends continue? It certainly seems that way, but the evolution of music and the ways in which we listen to it are often unpredictable. I started with Spotify in order to discover new music. If I find something I like I enough I will undoubtedly head into town and buy a copy. However I can’t say the same for the rest of the world.