Seven ways streaming technology is changing the very nature of music

I’ve been rabbiting on how as a delivery mechanism, streaming is changing the very nature of the music it’s delivering. sums everything up in seen statements.

  1. The data collected from streaming is making songs simpler and less challenging.
  2. Social media is making songs more confessional.
  3. Songs are shorter. It doesn’t pay to make long songs.
  4. Songs are more customizable than ever before.
  5. Digitization has made songs more diverse.
  6. Collaboration on songs is up.
  7. Music videos are not dead yet.

Each of these points is nicely developed and argued in this post. It’s worth reading.


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

2 thoughts on “Seven ways streaming technology is changing the very nature of music

  • Pingback: Seven ways streaming technology is changing the very nature of music – Music & Hi-fi Appreciations

  • October 17, 2018 at 7:55 pm

    Great recommend, as always, Alan.

    One thing to note is that all of the artists cited in the article are rap/hip hop artists which remains only the 5th most profitable music demo and lags WAY behind Pop (@#1) and Rock (close behind pop at #2).

    So while it might be fair and accurate to argue that streaming is altering the way rap/hip-hop are being made and sold, I don’t think the premise can be extended to pop/rock or simply “the nature of music”.

    In actuality the “nature of music” is unchanging. Stylistic conventions are what change, interact, become popular, fade, are resurrected by later generations, but not the nature of music itself.

    While artists are free to customize or reframe their works (or allow others to do so) as they see fit (the Euro dance-club remixes of non-dance tracks that have been around since at least the early ’80s, are one example), at the end of the day a song is both a work of art and a product to its artist/creator. Musicians are notorious for caring more about the former than the later and often those who do so become megastars.

    I’ll get into trouble with my dj and hip-hop musician friends here but the simple fact is that the barrier to entry for becoming a rapper/hip-hop artist is almost non-existent. (this is actually, I think a good thing, and it’s not intended to diminish the talent or passion involved but it’s also a fact.). It’s an even lower barrier to entry than existed in the punk revolution because punks had to be able to master at least 3 power chords and more or less keep in time in order to earn the right to jump around on the stage like the acts they simultaneously resented and wanted to emulate… in other words Real musicians.

    This barrier to entry question matters in terms of this article’s narrow selection and focus on one subgenre. Because artists are driven by the need to grow and express themselves. The years spent mastering songwriting craft, lyric craft, being able to express oneself through one or more instruments with any degree of skill are an investment. And that investment makes demands on its audience as well. As artists grow in competence, complexity and nuance (often) follow. This is why they create. The joy of challenging themselves to always do it better or to do it as well in a different way.

    And it’s why their fans listen.

    The article mentions an artist altering their song based on data as to when people skipped through their previous song (“starting with the chorus” though based the example given that’s stretching the definition of chorus). I’d like to suggest that the only artists who will do that, who will deliberately tweak their songs that way are those whose level of effort and commitment, whose investment in creation is extremely limited AND/OR those who compete in a marketplace of largely indistinguishable and equally disposable product.

    If all you have to do is record a vocal then layer in some rhythm fx and samples you are much more flexible and amenable to change. You can take a versioning approach of “here’s what I made but if you don’t like it here it is without vocals, or without samples or with different drums or…” Basically you can treat your work as more disposable because, frankly, it is. As hard as you think you worked on it you still know the barrier to entry was exponentially lower than that of mastering lyrics AND melody AND composition AND the ability to play an instrument AND making the commitment to pay for a symphony orchestra to play on your track. The impression this easy adaptation gives is that you’re just trying to sell whatever you can do and trying to do whatever you can to make it saleable.

    But if, on the other hand, after years of investment you’ve now composed a twenty minute prog piece for rock band and orchestra and sound fx that flows through various movements, or a heartfelt country ballad or rock song or big band swing jazz piece, your final attitude will be “This is the work I created. Listen to it or don’t. Dig it or don’t. But this is what I set out to create regardless of whether you buy it.”

    To most, that’s the difference between an artist whose work is also a product and someone who strives to make only product and hopes that makes them an artist.

    Streaming is really just new radio.

    Whether it ultimately narrows or broadens our musical “bandwidth” at the end of the day it provides the background noise of your choice just as radio did.

    It’s always been my impression that if your only taste is music is defined by what you passively receive from the radio (or wherever) then music doesn’t play a particularly significant role in your life. It’s all really just Muzak to you.

    Anyone I know who truly loves music, be it devotion to a single band/ artist, or a single genre or to countless of each across a broad spectrum listens to an artist’s albums, listens to tracks never or seldom played on a radio.

    If you aren’t aware that Steve Walsh (ex-of Kansa) and Billy Idol and Alice Cooper are still releasing new, fresh, vital music (or other equivalent artists in the genre of your choice) then you aren’t really looking or listening.

    You’re not an Alice Cooper fan if “School’s Out” is the only song of his you know.

    If you’ve only ever heard “Money” but never listened to all of “The Dark Side of the Moon” then music is really just background noise to you.

    And there’s nothing wrong with that. Many people don’t have the inclination or energy to invest themselves consciously in what music they are exposed to. That’s why radio and now streaming exist… it does the job for you.

    Devotees of Jazz, Prog Rock or Classical music invest themselves in listening, concentrating on subtle shifts in mood, movement often over long periods of time. In many cases the very idea of listening to one song from a Supertramp, Genesis or Yes album out of context is such a turn off to a devotee as to be considered offensive. So unless the streaming service plays the whole album there’s a lot of fans who won’t ever be onboard.

    Yes, eventually (if not already) there will be streaming services that will cater to these tastes too but contrary to the thesis of this article you will (and I’d bet real money on this) you will NEVER hear the members of Yes, or Marillion, or Coheed and Cambria saying “Hey guys somebody skipped the guitar solo, maybe we should cut the solo out of the middle of our song. What do you think?”

    I’m about 100% confident any real musician’s response will be “Well they can just F*** off, then, can’t they?”

    And that’s also the reason real music fans love them and will continue to love them.

    We’ll find them in bars, we’ll buy their music and their merch just to keep them going for another round. I’ve been doing that lately with a new Toronto band called Birds of Bellwoods. I like their stuff. I want to hear more of it, so I buy what I can and support where I can. Age-wise I’m not their demo… except I am because they write songs worth listening to and demonstrate exceptional craft and passion and joy in doing so.

    I’m also a Marillion fan. There’s maybe a quarter of a million of us worldwide. But we pay their living year in and year out with concert tickets and fan club memberships and downloads purchased and merch and so on and so on… We’ve been doing it since the ’80’s and they’ve relied on us and ONLY us since the mid-90’s.

    What was the result? They never became a “legacy band” playing their hay-day hits. They continue to release new, challenging, vital music that THEY want to play. And because of that they tour constantly across Europe, North and South America and recently played sold out houses in Japan.

    So… yes streaming is having an impact on some but no, streaming is not changing the very nature of music.

    It’s changing the way those who want to shovel out largely indistinguishable product do their shoveling perhaps,because they’ve got stiff competition and little to set themselves apart so they need any edge they can get.

    But that still leaves music itself and real musicians (and their fans) untouched and unaffected.

    In a way, streaming is like the reinvention of the library. It’s all there for you and it’s all practically free.

    But if you want it new, first, or all of it straight from the artist the library won’t be your first stop, it’ll just always be there.

    The library didn’t kill book publishing. More books are being made now than ever even as people bemoan the “death of traditional publishing”.

    Streaming is Radio 2.0 and may help hasten the demise of “traditional music industry” but that isn’t going to stop artists who can deliver the goods, live, on album, in singles (or not) to a population that likes what they do.

    Maybe the days of the mega-star are gone.

    That’s fine by me. I’m kind of thrilled that whenever my favorite band comes over the pond I can get tickets for a reasonable price because they control their own sales and re-sellers know they can’t make their money back on such a “small” act.

    That’s why Marillion fans refer to each other as members of “the family”. And Streaming isn’t going to kill families anytime soon.

    Just my thoughts.



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