News from the music industry recently has been about Taylor Swift's departure from streaming site Spotify. Swift said that she didn't want to invest her creativity in someone else's experiment.
Of course in many ways she is right. Spotify is not run by the artists or record labels. It is an entirely different entity, however the question could be framed in a different way. If artists such as Swift are withdrawing from major streaming services like Spotify then what are they suggesting is the alternative?
That's right. I haven't heard any suggestions either. When U2 launched their new album by forcing it onto millions of Apple devices they also suggested that they had some new ideas about music distribution, but who will listen to them after that stunt?
Everyone now knows the problem. Music can be easily shared without any degradation of quality. When music was purchased as a physical artefact - a vinyl record or CD - it was not so easy to copy, but a collection of MP3 files (possibly ripped from a CD) can be shared with anyone any number of times.
Taylor Swift may have seen a boost in her legal sales via services such as iTunes, but there was almost certainly far more illegal sharing of her new album. It is so easy to find illegal free copies of music that the only people who now purchase MP3s legally are those who actively want to hand some cash to the artist or those who just find it easier to use iTunes than mess about copying files.
Spotify suggests an alternative vision of the future. If you can pay a small monthly subscription - less that the price of one album - then that gives you access to everything at anytime. This is a great deal for the music fan - and they are not the only company offering this type of service. Spotify adds up all their revenue and then pays over 70% of all the cash they receive to artists, based on the overall percentages of songs played - if Taylor Swift songs were 5% of all songs played on Spotify in a month then she would get 5% of the cash they pay out that month.
It's a simple model, it works well, mobile integration is good and there are good tools for discovery of new artists and learning about gigs. The main Spotify tool is integrated into SongKick so you can receive automated alerts when your favourite bands are playing nearby.
But streaming services like Spotify only work when you can get everything. If major artists start pulling out then it's no longer a one-stop-shop. My own personal gripe is that I can't hear The Beatles on there. If several major bands started pulling out then why would I continue to pay?
But this brings us back to the central question again. If artists want to stop streaming their music then what do they suggest as an alternative? Streaming has started encouraging people to consume music legally by paying a subscription to access music as a service. The logical destination for Taylor Swift fans is not a legal service like iTunes, but a pirate file-sharing site where they can just download her MP3s. Is this really progress for her, or the music business?
For now, music is returning to a performance model that pre-dated the recorded music industry. Artists need to sell tickets for gigs, sell limited edition signed albums, T-shirts, and even access to events such as meet & greets for autograph hunters.
But the Internet can help to make the effort of performance at gigs go global. Singer-songwriter Ronan MacManus is launching his new album in London next week and he has partnered with Twitcasting.tv to stream the album launch live from the famous Ealing Club - reputed to be the birthplace of rock music.
Twitcasting is an app built by Japan's Moi Corporation and has been gaining traction in the past year as an easy way to live stream events; even where broadband quality is variable.
It's not just that gigs will be more common in future, but as Ronan MacManus is demonstrating, gigs will be experienced live all over the world. I fully expect artists to be charging fans to watch the sound-check on their phones, or to go backstage before a show for a sneak preview of the set-list.
Spotify may not have all the answers, but at least they are trying to map out a future for legal music. Taylor Swift has an enormous fan base - far more than Ronan MacManus - so why is it that I can only see less well-known artists exploring how get closer to their fans?Suggest a correction