(Note: This article was posted on April 16th but was drafted before the announcement from Spotify about limiting 'free' users to 10 hours/month and each track no more than 5 times)
Those who follow my blog (or twitter feed) will have heard me talk about a dissatisfaction with the media industry and their attempted heavy-handed techniques towards their customers in relation to activities surrounding the UK Digital Economy Bill (DEBill). If you missed it, it's here.
As part of that I mentioned that it's actually almost pointless illegally downloading music these days because of the availability of free alternatives such as Spotify and We7, and to a lesser extent Youtube (which generally requires higher bandwidth for comparable quality). Now We7 and Spotify are both free-to-use, and they do this by playing you adverts periodically (we7 allow you to build up credits towards ad-free days) but both of those two streaming services provide subscription options (Roughly £5 for use on a computer, £10 to also include mobile use because the music publishers insist on extra charges for mobile use - I actually disagree with the mobile charging, but think charging for OFFLINE use - mobile or otherwise - would be more palatable and worth paying for ...) but why would you bother paying for any subscription?
- You get rid of adverts. Maybe not a killer reason for the casual listener but as someone who often streams for several hours a day it's significant
- I want to give something back to the artists etc. who choose to make their music and I feel the service is worth paying for in order to support its continued operation.
- I like being able to listen to lots of new music to preview before purchasing. We7 has not reduced the amount of music I pay for (actually it's probably increased it) but it's allowed me to make vastly more informed decisions about what to buy. In fact I know I'm not the only one who's LESS likely to buy music if it's not available on the streaming sites.
- In the case of we7 they have a fantastic policy of trying to make as little as possible available only to paying subscribers. for example the recent Jessie J and Claire Maguire albums were available free on We7 but subscriber only on Spotify. At the time of writing only Adele's 21 has been subscriber only (blame XL recordings...)
So that's why for me it's worth the subscription fee, plus We7 are UK-based (Oxford) so as someone based in the UK I'm supporting a British company and they don't need installation of a proprietary cross-platform application since it's flash based (which can be a positive or negative!).
On the related second topic of the "On-Air, On-Sale" (OAOS) policy from Universal and EMI in January which happened (whether coincidentally or not) in the wake of a screwed up UK release of Britney Spears' "Hold It Against Me" it's important to note that it applies to streaming services - which means tracks should be on Spotify/We7 etc. as quickly as they appear everywhere else. It is another good anti-against piracy from the industry and also prevents cover versions of tracks being released in the so-called "pre-release window" and taking sales away from the original artists. And despite the likes of Gaga's high-budget videos still appearing I do wonder if the importance of music videos will decrease with OAOS since tracks are getting publicity/sales through other legal mediums even before a video is available. People are now immediately able to click and buy when they hear something instead of getting a primary music fix via exposure to videos on TV or YouTube and then having to go out and make a physical purchase as was the case in the past. Reducing video importance would likely help balance out the extra publicity big acts get from spending money on videos, thus ultimately helping the independents despite what Chipmunk seems to think. On a related note the increasing amount of product placement being used to finance music videos is possibly making the ad-funded services from We7 etc. more acceptable to a wider audience.
To make sure the music industry doesn't start to feel complacent with my comments in this article, one thing I really don't appreciate is a recent trend to release more "special editions" of albums a year or so after initial release. If you've bought the original at release time (as a loyal fan of an artist would) then you feel let down if a new version of something you bought is released with a few extra tracks. You either do without, shell out for a new CD, or download the extra tracks (which may cost as much as a new CD if it's a 2CD edition). Ke$ha, Gaga, Taio Cruz, Alexandra Burke and Pixie Lott are all artists who have done that sort of thing in the last year or so. It will end up encouraging you not to bother buying and just stream where you'll be able to get the 'new versions' at no extra cost. Not very sensible when the record labels would rather encourage you to buy rather than stream product that you want to listen to repeatedly.
In the interests of openness, other streaming services are available - I just haven't used them (other than last.fm for scrobbling) :-)