One of the most exciting and unique aspects of the capitalization of the internet is the conceptual innovation of music streaming services. Along with rideshare services such as Uber and video services like YouTube, streaming services represent the non-democratization of the internet through what are essentially middlemen corporations, that function to make information easily accessible to a vast network of people in exchange for a piece of the revenue made per use.

This is one of the fastest growing industries in the modern age, with subscription based streaming services increasing their yearly profit from around $475m in 2015 to just over $1,700 in 2017(Nudelman, Business Insider). Streaming has quickly become the most common way to consume music, and the music industry has changed drastically over the course of the last ten years. For one thing, the easy, cheap access to content dissemination has allowed independent artists to thrive. The number of musicians who are able to release music full-time has nearly doubled within the last decade(1,180 artists in 2003, 2,020 in 2012(U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics)), and while label acts used to make up around 75% of that population, they now only represent a mere 5 or 6%. Streaming services have definitely recognized the role they play, and with the addition of discovery features, it is clear that these services are truly trying to tap into the internet’s full potential for sharing.

While this may seem like the early signs of some utopian, collectivized, “fully-automated gay space communism” future, a further analyzation of the way these services function reveal a few fatal flaws in these systems and the way they operate.

Streaming services gain their ability to provide easy access/successful recommendations to their consumers through data, similar to social media sites. This means basically that the more people using the service, the better the service will function, which creates a push towards monopolization in the industry. Companies strive to become the sole dominant data-collector/tastemaker, all under the guise of easy access for all. It’s easy to see the Ford-style, “freedom in fascism” mindset that becomes that which these companies operate under. Many services have exclusivity rights on certain albums by artists, which prohibit them from putting up the album anywhere else. Furthermore, as countless music journalists have critiqued, the per-play wages that artists receive from sites like Spotify are incredibly low and exploitative, with only 2% of unsigned artists being able to sustain themselves off Spotify’s measly $.007 per song. Another huge problem is piracy, with sites like YouTube having rather lose copyright enforcement policies that require artists to flag every individual posting of their music for YouTube to be able to take it down.

In this new era of the internet, it’s easy to confuse this newfound widespread access to information with democracy. If these sites were truly democratic, artists would all have say in how much of their profits would go to the services, and services would not be allowed to operate with the discriminatory/exclusionary policies that they currently do.

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