My Issues with Streaming Music Services

Much is made of how the digitization of music has transformed the music industry. There are negatives (the artist gets ripped off, it’s too corporate, the technology is clumsy, etc.), and there are positives (disruption to the old school business model was overdue). Most of us hold an opinion somewhere in the middle; we accept digital music, but it doesn’t thrill. No doubt: a fundamental shift has occurred and yesterday’s ways of making and listening to music are becoming obsolete. Streaming music services are playing a role in the transition. 
  
But it doesn’t sound that good… 
  
I have a horse in this race because I make music. Digital music doesn’t sound that good when streamed - not yet anyway. At best, the sound is inconsistent - anywhere from sonically thin to overdriven. Top quality requires a certain technological sophistication. I’m not convinced the new gatekeepers have much of an appreciation or respect for the experience of the listener (iTunes, Google Music, Amazon and the like…). And these gatekeepers are lame. Their competitive leveraging tends to leave the customer with compatibility issues. From poor sound quality to planned obsolescence to platforms not playing nice with each other, the listeners are the losers. 
  
We are losing the creative context… 
  
What makes music – and art – interesting is vaporizing at a heightened rate. It takes considerable resources to transfer classic analogue recordings to a digital format. Aside from the deterioration and loss of less in demand recordings, older music surviving into the new age is not being heard as it was intended, both in regards to sound quality and the album experience. The net effect is cultural: tactile (LPs and CDs) sound recordings are disposable. 
  
Creating original music is still expensive… 
  
The notion of the recording artist being disposable limits a musician’s opportunity to make a living by traditional means. While not necessarily a bad thing from a creative standpoint, it’s a lame conceit to hail it as an innovative disruptor in the marketplace. Most, if not all streaming services have a shaky matrix to recognize and honor copyright. Put simply, no one outside of the executives and employees at streaming companies make any money from this. And the cost of creating the content hasn’t reduced in the slightest. Musicians are not catching a break with gear, studio time, legal and tax services, etc. The content generators are the last to get paid. 
  
The selling point is convenience… 
  
I could go on about how a lack of deep listening leads to a normalization of things like auto-tuning, musical vanity exercises and overly literal messaging, but I will leave that to another essay. Streaming services are here to stay. I can appreciate it in certain settings, such as a casual party or when your mind and hands are occupied with other things. But, it would be an overstatement to call digital recordings an improvement on the past, which in a way is interesting in and of itself. There have been few – if any – new introductions of technology that sold itself on actually being worse than the technology that came before it. That’s a price we’re paying for convenience. 

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