Did you ever notice that when something or someone really disruptive comes along, the Keepers of the Norm kind of get apoplectic? It’s like, a disruptive force enters the scene and everyone who is used to the way things have always been – regardless of age – suddenly finds every apocalyptic analogy they can to explain to the rest of us how dead [insert disrupted thing here] will be in just a matter of months. Wherever there is an entrenched Establishment whose very survival depends on things not being disrupted you will find caterwauling and prognostications of doom against the disruption.
Politics is like this. Your parents are like this. The media is like this. But there is no entity in the world who is more like this than the music industry.
I’m not talking about the people who write music, or make music, I’m talking about the people who sell music. In an industry that pushes – and is pushed by – technology, the executives who run things are historically the biggest scaredy-cat wolf-criers in the universe.
To them, streaming is the death of all music. This is dumb and shortsighted, but it is their truth.
Do you know why Freebird is the anthem it is to people who grew up in the 70s? Cocaine. Or pot, or maybe hookers. Quite possibly all three.
At nine minutes, your friendly local radio DJ had about 8 minutes to bump a line, or take a hit (or nine) off a joint. Remember, most radio DJs were those nerdy kids from the AV Club back in high school and now…hookers! Spin Free Bird enough times while taking care of business and all the kids out there will be conditioned to believe that the very Gods of Music have sent the song here just for them. Free Bird is a good song, but not Skynyrd’s best and not even the best song off the album it was on – but here we are forty years later and we’re all still shouting ‘Play Free Bird’ at every show we go to. Why? Because radio made us.
Put a generation of kids in a room in their dull and boring pre-X-Box lives and play them the same songs over and over again and voila! you get Classic Rock and enough Golden Oldies to stifle creativity for centuries to come. This may sound like I’m saying it’s a bad thing, it’s not (particularly), but it shouldn’t be held up as the only operational standard for the music industry.
With streaming, we’ve all become our own Program Directors at our own personal radio stations and life is glorious! Some of us may actually want to listen to KISS’ I Was Made For Loving You and you can if you want to, but the nice thing is we don’t ever have to hear that song again because our personal radio stations have banned that drivel from our personal airwaves. Let’s be honest, without KISS’ magnificent marketing machine they would’ve been forgotten about in 1974.
This is why streaming won’t kill the music industry. It won’t even kill the radio industry because if smart people are allowed to figure things out in radio, they’ll figure out a way to survive in the new digital world order. But it is why streaming will keep us from being brainwashed en masse that mediocre songs are great and that great music by obscure artists doesn’t deserve to be played.
Will we have massive generational anthems like Free Bird as we move forward? Probably not, and there is some loss to that because even though the song isn’t that good, it was our song. But music fans will find new ways to communicate to their tribes and make their own anthems.
Now if we music fans would just be bothered enough to tell Spotify and Pandora and other streaming services to ante up and pay the artists what their music is worth, we could rest assured that artists will be able to afford to make good music. The existential threat to the music industry is not streaming, it is the new business model that puts content way beneath technology in terms of importance.