In recent years, the rise of music streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music has given consumers an alternative in purchasing music. At $10 a month ($5 for qualifying students), these services allow the user access to a massive library of songs for approximately the price of an album a month. While paying for a streaming service may not be worth it for people who rarely buy music, it quickly pays off for those who do.
One of the biggest advantages of Spotify is users can sample music on a whim without purchasing it instead of forcing users to take a leap of faith and buy the album first. Someone who believes the good reviews about Kanye West could buy “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” and then carefully research the quality of his other albums and buy one every month. Alternatively, on Spotify that person can download every song Kanye has ever released on Spotify for no extra cost then download every Kendrick Lamar and Kid Cudi song for good measure. Even if they ultimately discover they don’t like hip-hop, they can then download every Radiohead album and EP, except “In Rainbows,” or upon discovering they don’t like any music written in the last 200 years, stream everything written by Beethoven. Since premium services allow you to store music offline, the only real downside is lack of ownership.
Not personally owning music can be an issue, however, when some hotshot like Taylor Swift decides to take all her music down because she makes more money when people buy her albums. Likewise, some artists like Thom Yorke oppose Spotify on principle — though this only affects his solo albums. This sense of instability can be especially problematic when dealing with big artists. Spotify thrives on allowing users to listen to a variety of artists, but if you use it to listen to a couple mainstream bands, it can backfire. At present, this is a minor problem sicnce most mainstream artists are still available to stream, but occasionally artists like Eric Church will hold back an album a few months so as to not compromise album sales, but even in such cases, the music becomes available within a short time frame.
Relative to other streaming services like Netflix, which constantly cycle the movies and TV shows, Spotify’s library is a non-issue. TV streaming sites currently have to deal with exclusivity contracts, meaning the selection of shows is split between Netflix, Amazon and the vastly inferior Hulu. To stream “South Park” or “Seinfeld” legally, even if you already subscribe to Netflix and Amazon Prime, you still have to pay yet another subscription fee and sit through commercials for Hulu access. If Apple Music sparks a similar turf war, the value of music streaming could take a hit, but at present, the only significant difference between the major streaming services is Taylor Swift.
Some artists have argued they are not fairly compensated by streaming services, but these services help combat illegal pirating and are overwhelmingly beneficial to the consumer. There are a few notable gaps like the Beatles’ discography being absent from everything but Apple, but many are still well worth its price.