# A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Miscellaneous - June 2014

  by Benjamin Howarth

published: 6 / 6 / 2014

Miscellaneous - June 2014


In 'Condemnned to Rock 'n' Roll' Ben Howarth's reflects on YouTube and Spotify's impact on rock music

Pick an album. Any album. Now go to the YouTube website and type the name of that album, followed by the words 'Full album' into the search bar. Nine times out of ten, you will now be able to listen to that album, in full, free of charge and without so much as having to skip tracks. Google – who own YouTube – will tell you that they are leading the fight against piracy. That the best response to piracy is a “better, convenient, legal alternative.” They insist they respond quickly to copyright removal notices. I'm sure they have covered their legal bases. But, ten years ago, if you wanted to listen to someone's music without paying for it, you needed to wade into the murky (and confusing) world of torrents. In 2014, your first call is YouTube. From there, it is remarkably easy to download those videos as MP3s (albeit not legally) – permanent access to music you haven't paid for. Some artists grant YouTube a license and receive a (fairly small) amount every time you click (if you want your favourite bands to make some cash, why not set up your work computer to stream all their songs simultaneously while you take your lunchbreak?) But, if you listen to something a random YouTube user has stuck up, the band won't get a penny – unless they've spotted the post and asked YouTube about it. So, you can see why a group of indie bands – led by Billy Bragg – have reacted angrily when they found out that, even amidst this unimpressive environment, YouTube are now proposing to pay even lower rates on their new streaming service than their competitors – and are rumoured to be offering the indies even less than the major label acts (YouTube are widely believed to be in the final stages of launching a direct competitor to Spotify and Deezer). So, those negotiating on behalf of indie labels are raising their stakes – they have threatened both a formal competition complaint to the European Commission and, perhaps of more significance, to withhold their bands from the new streaming platform (which would mean nothing from mega-sellers like Adele, the White Stripes and the Arctic Monkeys). Let’s not over-sentimentalise things, here. This is no noble crusade for the romantic heroes of the indie labels against the big bad majors. This is all in a context of an arrangement where other streaming services already pay what many indie bands see as piddling amounts. The Arctic Monkeys make a killing from Spotify. Most of the bands we write about on Pennyblackmusic make almost nothing. Billy Bragg has been an enthusiastic supporter of Spotify – but even he seems to tacitly accept that they are the best of a bad bunch. Many of Bragg's peers may wonder if he is really fighting the right battle – seeing little real difference between hardly anything or even less than that. After all, Bragg and chums haven't unearthed a hitherto unimaginable plot – just an example of standard corporate practice being implied, entirely predictably, by a corporate giant. Google clearly do have an interest in nurturing new music as a good source of future revenue – but they know, more than anyone, that there is a plentiful stream of talented people willing to 'share' music for free. On these terms, who can really blame them for offering low rates? So, what does all this mean to us, the listeners? Well, we may come to see 2014 as the last year of a 'golden age' of unfettered access to music from around the world. The suggestions are that the new Spotify-style service will be integrated into the YouTube app (what that means for Google's existing streaming service, Google Play, is unclear). This will almost certainly be the excuse they need to clean up their archive and get rid of all the uncopyrighted material. With YouTube now believed to have retaliated by threatening to remove all the artist disputing the offer from this service, this might bring deeper ramifications. Many small musicians use YouTube to get the word out – they might soon find that providing their full back catalogue to a streaming service at a minimal rate is the price they are expected to pay in return. They could migrate to other video services, but – without YouTube's huge userbase - the promotional benefits of posting promo videos may go. Entire careers have been launched on YouTube (the guitarist Andy McKee for example), but the beam might be raised a little higher in future. Music streaming might even go the way of satellite sports broadcasting, with music fans choosing between streaming services the way football fans choose between BT and Sky Sports. This could be good for bands – playing one off against the other might raise their fee – but, for listeners, it limits one of the main selling points of streaming: having unlimited access to almost everything you want at your fingertips. As we reach what is clearly a tipping point, the music industry's inherent complacency is being exposed again. Having fought downloading for so long, they threw their lot in with Spotify wholesale. They don't appear to have given a moment's thought to the idea that, if Spotify really is such a great idea, lots of other people would look to copy it. Within a decade, the music industry as we know it really will be gone. Its replacement will be whichever streaming services emerge from the scrum to capitalise on the huge historic database of pop music – and a bet on anything other than Google/YouTube here seems like a surefire way to lose money. If YouTube's record on taking pirated albums down from its website is anything to go by, they won't do anything to help musicians unless they are forced to. Depressing times.

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