Anyone who’s still fighting against the rise of streaming as the way of accessing music is engaging in a losing battle. Yes, there will always be a place for CDs, vinyl and purchased downloads, but we’re inexorably marching into an age where access to music will trump possession.
The Harvard Business Review takes a look at how quickly things are evolving.
Beyoncé made history with her album Lemonade, which was streamed a record 115 million times in its first week. Just one week later, Drake broke that record when his album Views was streamed 245 million times. The age of streaming music has arrived in full force, displacing both physical sales (e.g., CDs) and downloaded songs (e.g., iTunes). As streaming has taken hold, U.S. album sales, both physical and digital, have plummeted from a peak of 785 million in 2000 to just 241 million in 2015. The change comes from people switching from purchasing full albums, either online or offline, to listening to individual songs through a streaming platform such as Spotify, Tidal, or Pandora (where one of us works, full disclosure).
This shift has the potential to reshape both the music people listen to and the music that artists create. For example, will the concept of albums survive in the age of streaming, or will artists simply release their best singles? (History buffs will note that the concept of recorded albums is itself relatively new.)
As music fans, we wanted to get a sense of the evolving music landscape. Looking at the academic research on the topic and our own data set of 2,400 top-selling albums from 1992 to 2015, two patterns about music quality emerged.