Streaming into the future: The value of music in the digital age
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In March 2015, a new version of music streaming service Tidal was introduced during a press launch. The service promised a higher audio quality, exclusive content and wanted a more fair compensation for the artists' work. The move was a response to an already running debate about the value of music and fair compensation. By stating them so clearly, Tidal's set goals give way to re-evaluate what digital music is still worth in the digital, streaming age. To research this, four types of value are proposed early on: an artistic, financial, content and social value. This research poses the following question: how have the artistic, financial, content and social elements that are part of the value of music been influenced by the introduction of music streaming services like Spotify and the change in materiality that came with it? To research how the introduction of streaming services and the change in materiality in the move from digital files to streaming has influenced those four values, an affordance analysis of Spotify is undertaken. In this analysis, the affordances Spotify offers its users are analysed, to find how streaming music and the way it is consumed differ from earlier forms of music consumption. The findings of this descriptive analysis are then interpreted within the context of the four value types. These interpretations find that artistic value is quite strongly altered by streaming. The idea of an album as a complete work of art is old-fashioned: where downloads could force tracks to be available with a full album only, in streaming each track is available separately. Opposite that, streaming offers new artistic opportunities: music can now be changed or updated after its release, changing the idea of when an album is finished. Financial value has been influenced, too: in streaming, money isn't made by selling albums, but by having tracks streamed as much as possible. Rights holders are paid from income coming from paying subscribers and advertising, invoking a strategy of releasing music exclusively for paying consumers. The content value has seen the largest change in materiality: compared to physical albums, streaming music is very bare bones, stripped to just the music and small artwork. Both artists and Spotify are trying to expand the content beyond the music, through adding elements like lyrics, statistics and curated playlists, with more on the horizon. The social value within Spotify is very minimal: messages can only be sent when attached to a playlist. With the superfluous presence of other online social platforms, there is no need for more, and the way music can be shared on these platforms through Spotify has made it much easier to do so with a large group of people. So far, music value has evolved along with consumption and it is only likely it will continue to do so.