‘The Spotify Age’:
IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify
Music Survival and Growth in a Social Media World
I look around the modern music landscape and wonder…
whether there is a chasm and barrier between the underground/new artists and the established best. One of the most heartbreaking things I have seen in music is an artist, Beau Dermott, and the song, Sparkles. It is, by all accounts, a girlish and teenage song that will have its fans. One suspects there will be a fair amount of derision and criticism. She is entitled to release any song she wishes but I wonder whether how impactful any criticism will be. In this piece, I wanted to address two things about the social media age. The first, the way bigger artists and streaming overtakes credibility and talented: the second, how vulnerable and susceptible young artists are to scarring and attack. I’ll bring in a piece from The Guardian - that talked about Taylor Swift’s recent achievement:
“Taylor Swift’s comeback song Look What You Made Me Do has broken three records in its first week of release.
The song, the 27-year-old singer’s first since 2014, was released on 24 August with an accompanying lyric video which received 19m views in its first day, breaking the previous record held by the Chainsmokers and Coldplay.
On the following day, it racked up 8m streams in Spotify, another record; and after the video was released during the VMAs on Sunday it achieved almost 30m views in 24 hours. This gave Swift her third record, beating Adele’s Hello, which achieved 27.7m views. The video currently has over 53m views.
While the song has been popular with fans, it has received mixed reviews from critics. The Guardian’s Maura Johnston called it “a skeletal bit of electropop”, while Pitchfork’s Meaghan Garvey referred to it as “a half-rapped, half-assed airing of grievances”.
It arrived within weeks of Swift’s civil trial against DJ David Mueller, who the singer had accused of groping her during a pre-concert photo. The jury ruled in favor of Swift. “My hope is to help those whose voices should also be heard,” she said in a statement. “Therefore, I will be making donations in the near future to multiple organizations that help sexual assault victims defend themselves.”
Look What You Made Me Do is the first song taken from Swift’s new album, Reputation, which will be released in November. Her previous album, 1989, was the bestselling album of 2014 and has gone on to sell 9.5m copies worldwide”.
This, to me, is what is causing issues on platforms like Spotify. The song, as the piece says, has little to do with overall quality and originality. It is not one of Taylor Swift’s finest songs but that does not seem to matter. So many people have reacted to and, with her fans behind her, the song has broken records. Those records are numbers and figures: they do not correlate with the influence and brilliance of the music. The fact the song has been, it appears, rush-released suggests the writers and producers were looking to cobble something quick for fans. I might be wrong but feel there has been little care making Look What You Made Me Do a properly good song. Every year, there are accusations Pop has lost its edge: it is a market for a limited demographic and does not constitute and define any real sense of purpose. That is an opinion and one I do not fully support. There are great Pop acts out there but much of the terrific music is being reduced to streaming figures and records. The reason I talk so regularly (and vehemently) about this subject is (because) we need to make changes. The fact Taylor Swift’s recent song has gained as much controversy – it sounds a lot like a Right Said Fred track; her recent court case plays heavily into its mythology – as it has acclaim tells you how meaningless streaming records are. If we are, as I see it, in this ‘Spotify Age’; one has to ask the question: Are we going backwards and taking music in the wrong direction?!
There is no denying streaming services provide a platform for new artist to get their music heard – open to the masses and included on some influential playlists. Spotify is a great way of connecting with past music: the back catalogues of the great and legendary are held here. One can – not that they ever should – get the music for free and not have to worry about spending. It is not only Spotify culpable but what worries me is how much emphasis is being placed on records and being massive. Every time an artist like Taylor Swift storms Spotify; it means her fans and followers will think that is the way music should be conducted. She has been mired in controversy – not her fault in many cases – and her recent bout of celebrity has very little to do with what she is producing. She is, as I understand, bringing out an album very soon – I am sure it will do big business and sell by the millions. A lot of the newer artists coming through are struggling to really make the same sort of impact. These musicians, in my opinion, produce stronger music.
The fact it is not receiving the same recommendation and acclaim shows how divided and skewed modern music is. I know how many good sides there are to Spotify and streaming services but there is such a focus on celebrity and success. Every time we hear artists breaking streaming records I always think the same thing: What does that have to do with music? It is a problem that is not going away and one that will divide people. I am pleased there are artists, out there, who can inspire and motivate the young. Taylor Swift’s video broke YouTube records – viewed more than forty-two-million times on the site within twenty-four hours – and that will give strength to a lot of her fanbase. They want to see their idol do well and bounce back after disruption. I am a big supporter of Spotify: I feel it provides more music than other services and is a valuable way to promote new artists. My biggest fears revolve around the sheer gulf between the big stars and those coming through. How effective is it going to be for a new artist putting their music up there? Unless you are on a larger star’s playlist; one wonders how much attention will come their way. As part of the promotional ritual; we see those A-listers put a new track on Spotify/YouTube and watch the view-count rocket.
It equates to a certain sum of money and reward but it means the business side of things – the numbers war – is satisfied. It doesn’t matter if a song is great: so long as it does well on the streaming sites. I know a huge number of artists who want to get their music featured highly on Spotify – to reach wider audiences and show what a great piece of music they have created. I have talked, in the past, as to ways an artist can succeed on Spotify. It is valuable doing your research but I think there should be better (and easier) ways for artists getting just rewards on these sites.
IN THIS IMAGE: The Chainsmokers (one of the most-streamed acts on Spotify)/IMAGE CREDIT: Impossible Brief
It is right every act should have a chance to be on there: how right is it that those more famous and attention-courting are elevated so much higher than those in less advantageous situations? Some sort of compromise needs to be struck because I am seeing too many artists struggling on platforms like YouTube and Spotify – they deserve a lot better. Is it the fault of the public or artists when certain songs get so many views?! One can say it is part of marketing and everyone has free choice. If people want to download music from their favourite act; who am I to argue? Take recent albums by Queens of the Stone Age (pictured below) and LCD Soundsystem. They might not list after the streaming records but, compared with some of the biggest Pop stars, get very few downloads/streams.
To me; sites like Spotify and YouTube should do two things. They need to offer people the best and more resourceful pot of older music. There is no use putting what has gone before second – these sounds are the reason music has evolved and got as far as it has. More money and time should be dedicated toward putting those legendary bands/artists into the public mindset. It should, as its primary focus, ensure there is a viable and prosperous platform for new artists coming through. Everyone can put a song there but one needs a certain amount of streams until they are verified. Often, the artist’s P.R. people have to push hard to get them any sort of coverage on Spotify. The site does not really do a daily focus on a newer artist – they are chasing that mainstream-dollar and concerned with projecting a certain sense of cool and popular. They compile playlists to fit various moods: if you need a running playlist or songs to chill out to; one is pretty well catered to. I am concerned there are a lot of brand-new artists that see Spotify as a place reserved for those with big teams behind them. That should not be the way. In a future piece; I am proposing a new site/service introduced that makes it easy for smaller acts to thrive: makes the consumer aware of all the greatest new acts; places mainstream artists on the same level.
IN THIS PHOTO: Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme/PHOTO CREDIT: NME
Before concluding this piece; there is something else that concerns me about the proliferation and importance of social media/streaming sites. Music, now, is so about getting it on all the sites and making it open to everyone in the public sphere. Anyone can go onto YouTube and Spotify and hear a song. I guess this part is more to do with YouTube but, fitting in with my earlier point about Taylor Swift; it does make me think about the negativity and poison one sees on the sites. In the same way we need to restructure Spotify/streaming sites and ensure bling and reputation does not outweigh talent and promise: should we do more to safeguard those whose music appears on the sites?! I mention artists like Taylor Swift who, for all her success and position is, and has been, subject to abuse and negativity. I have been reading comments on YouTube – for her latest song – and there is so much hate swirling around. It is understandable, when someone gets that much attention and spotlight, there is going to be ridicule and schadenfreude – if their song is not as good as it was hyped up to me. I worry how easy it is for anyone in the world to post something hurtful and unnecessary about an artist. I am going to write about depression and anxiety in music soon – maybe tomorrow – as there is a growing rate among the new generation. I am concerned platforms like YouTube are providing an open pulpit for the lowest to spew their venom at an artist. It is impossible barring every troll and hater; one cannot have their voice silenced and be banned with one thoughtless comment. I am concerned Spotify is advantageous for the elite and privileged: YouTube seems to be a forum where there is as much hate and negativity as there is love. The music is the important thing and, if you do not like a song, do not comment on it. I feel the comment section of YouTube should be reserved for new artists – those less prone to such a violent eruption of vitriol and abuse. Those artists in a mainstream position should have a level of protection.
IN THIS PHOTO: Beau Dermott
I feel, even if they produce a bad song; that does not mean everyone is free to take shots. The kind of barrage certain artists receives every time a song is released cancels out the great feedback. Many of the artists will read what is posted: I wonder how helpful and constructive the comments are and the effect they can have on a person. I have seen friends post videos online (music) and they are great songs. It is disheartening seeing so many offputting comments and sentiments from complete strangers. One of the downsides of YouTube is the ‘like’ and ‘thumbs-down’ approach. I do not see the point of having a thumbs-down – why would anyone willingly allow a person to dislike a video and have that count against an artist?! Spotify has streaming figures but they do not have an option for people to slag off a song. YouTube has just had a lick of paint and looks slightly different than before. The functionality is no different: all the problems remain and the structuring is the same.
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
I do wonder why so little time and human resourcing is dedicated to monitoring comment boards and platforms like YouTube. Another problem I have with it – like Spotify – is how so much stock is put to ‘trending’ videos – those proving most popular. Like Spotify; it is all about the hype and celebrity of the musician. There is little consideration to quality and promise of the music. When we see videos receiving millions of few within hours of going online – what kind of impact does that have on the artist and the unsigned artists who would give their right arm for a millionth of their attention?! Every day; I see a new musician I know posts a video to YouTube. They often plug for views and constantly share that piece. It seems, the same way we are obsessed with social media: artists are valuing the ‘likes’ and viewing counts of YouTube. It seems insane chasing numbers but there is that inherent assumption that, if a song gets millions of views then that will lead to fame and a record deal.
Who is to say, if a song gets a million views (and few dislikes) then that will elevate an artist?! Labels and venues are not monitoring every video that goes online for the best new talent to book. We are confusing popularity and numbers with credibility and respect. Naturally; every artist wants to see their music liked and shared – it means a song connects and makes all the hard work worthwhile. I feel many are becoming abjectly sorrowful and anxious when they see low figures – or the song gets a bad comment or some thumbs-down. How, then, do all these elements present themselves in psychological terms? I am going to expand on this more, later, this weekend because I feel there is something bittersweet and unseemly about sites like Spotify and YouTube. I understand why YouTube is a great tool and how it gets videos/songs to the masses. I wonder how a big artist, when they see a song get big numbers, might be tarnished and hurt when they see any backlash and trolling.
The attention they get seems more to do with their position and fame: there are so many musicians, working in the underground, creating much better music. I worry they are not being afforded the chance to get their music heard and shared. I see so many artists endlessly campaign for retweeting, shares and ‘likes’ – they have a perfect scenario in their head and think, if they do not hit that, then that shortfall means they are inadequate and wasting their time. Spotify, to my ears, could be so much more and do so much more for a whole range of artists. The reason I go to Spotify is to get the best new tracks – for my weekly Playlist series – and the finest older music. I rarely find underground artists on there, simply, because very little promotion and oxygen is provided to them. Do we, therefore, need to restructure and invigilate the most-popular platforms to ensure there is equity, protection and better values?!
IMAGE CREDIT: Laughing Stock
It will take a lot of work but I feel, without making big changes, it is possible to overhaul and revamp in effective and meaningful ways. Spotify spends too much time on playlists and the big artists: YouTube revamps its site; in the sense it makes it look fancier - without really making structural alterations. Is it possible for artists to survive – let alone, succeed – on music-sharing websites?! My concern is there are two levels: the better access and options for mainstream artists: less well-funded and exposed options for anyone new. Getting one’s music shared, promoted and seen should be as easy and effortless as possible. Given the competition and amount of musicians coming in – not everyone is going to find it seamless finding success on the sites. That being said; the way things are right now means finding attention and security on platforms like Spotify and YouTube is…
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
FAR harder than it should be.