In the days before digital music, artists used to complain about “the gatekeepers” that made the decisions on what would get signed, what would get published and what would get heard. There always seemed to be a middleman in the way, and that kept a lot of artists from having careers. That all ended with digital music and streaming, where now anyone can be an artist and Spotify alone sees 100,000 music uploads per day.
Those days of unlimited music uploads to anyone who thinks they’re a musician may be soon coming to an end though, as streaming music platforms wrestle with increased storage costs and watered down music discovery that even a finely tuned algorithm can’t solve. As Sir Lucian Grange, CEO and Chairman of Universal Music Group, told Wall Street analysts last week that “We don’t think that’s sustainable for the platforms, nor is it sustainable for music fans.”
Time To Get Selective
There’s been much talk about the streaming platforms soon becoming selective about which tracks they keep on the platform. If an artist has tracks that don’t reach a minimum numbers of streams (and therefore doesn’t make money) they will either be deleted or the artist will have to pay for the privilege for the song’s presence on the platform. That will certainly solve many of the above issues, including adding a much-needed new revenue source for Spotify, which needs it more than the other major platforms.
But another option may be the return of music screeners who listen to the music and qualify what they deem as worthy to be sent along the chain for inclusion. This was the case with unsolicited tapes sent to record labels back in the old pre-digital days, but the downside was always that this was a job for a new hire or someone very junior in the company. It’s the luck of the draw that the tastes of the screener match the music.
With 100,000 tracks each day, there’s no way that even a large team of screeners could keep up with its vastness. In order to cut that amount down, either a new algorithm or a qualification fee, or both, would need to be set up in oder to bring the submissions down to a manageable number.
Yet the problem here is that if Spotify would initiate this sort of gatekeeping, you could be sure that Apple, Amazon and YouTube would most likely not, using the absence of a gatekeeper as a reason why Spotify would be an inferior platform to theirs, at least for artists. Those platforms have parent companies with huge pockets, and in every instance music is a very small part of the company, unlike Spotify where it’s the main part (at least for now).
The truth of the matter is that back in the days of the gatekeeper they were fairly effective in keeping low quality material out of the system. Not having them has led to music uploads to soar, and the reason why streaming services now have 100 million song catalogs, a number that helps no one.
The first shot in this battle has yet to be fired, we’re only in the sword-rattling stage at the moment. It wouldn’t take much to put it in motion though, and the first salvo might be coming sooner than you think.