The backstory of music streaming
In concrete terms, music streaming is a platform accessible through the internet where you can listen to music in unlimited quantities, either for free by listening to a few commercials or for a small fee. Streaming music began with Napster in 1999.
The practice at the time was quite different from the one we know now since it was based on peer-to-peer, an exchange of files, and therefore of tracks and albums, from one home to another. It was quite innovative at the time, but it was quickly qualified as illegal because artists and labels did not get a single cent from these exchanges. It took a few years, and it was in 2006 that the streaming platforms as we know them today, i.e. unlimited access to music in a legal way, were set up.
From then on, a whole bunch of platforms that you’re familiar with today will come along. In order to access their music library, you usually have to pay a subscription fee of around 10 euros per month. That’s where the questions start to arise. The subscription fees are great news for the consumer, it’s both very convenient and not very expensive. But how are the artists paid? Spoiler alert: not very well.
The music creators faced with Streaming.
Nowadays, getting into music is very complicated. It’s something that people are pointing out more and more. Besides, streaming platform managers are well aware of it, but they don’t seem to want to do anything.
The big fear with the golden age of streaming is that the whole music industry will bend to its will. It’s a kind of uberisation that kills music little by little. Faced with all these problems, many people ask themselves the same question: what do we do? Is it possible to choose a streaming platform that allows us to listen to music the way we want while having an ethical consumption?
Price of music streaming
Let’s start with the purely practical side. In terms of price, the offers are pretty much the same: with a subscription at 9.99 USD per month. For some, there is a free offer with advertising, like for example for Spotify and Deezer. Regarding sound quality, the main platforms run everything on a similar model: low-quality sound in the free offers, and slightly better sound in the paid versions. Some platforms also have an “HD” offer for 19.99 USD, for lossless audio quality, so this time really better. There are platforms on which the sound quality is better than on others. These are a little more specific platforms that are aimed at enthusiasts, such as Qobuz or Tidal.
Sound Quality difference
That said, the difference in sound quality between platforms is very small if you keep the settings. In standard quality, the differences are too small to be heard by ear. In fact, it’s not so much the platform itself that will affect your listening experience, it’s your headphones, your sound cards, or your speakers. Finally, regarding the catalog of artists and titles available, Deezer comes out on top with 53 million titles available. Just behind are Apple Music and Tidal with 50 million each.
Now let’s move on to the ethical side. The first question we could ask ourselves is “which platform best remunerates the artist? But we’ve already talked about this before, and there’s not really one that will stand out from the rest. An alternative is to buy directly from the artists. For example, a platform like Band Camp allows you to do that. In fact, since the beginning of COVID, every first Friday of the month, the platform does not take any commission on purchases. Consequently, all the money you put in goes directly to the artists.
You also have to ask yourself what else the company is doing. For example, if you decide to subscribe to Amazon Music, you give your money to Amazon. It is a big multinational company that kills local businesses, including record stores, for example, and issued for mistreating several of its employees in its history. Finally, we can ask ourselves the question of ecology.
Ecology Impact of Streaming platforms
It is true that listening in a dematerialized environment produces a fortiori less waste since there is no manufacturing of objects, but we must nevertheless be aware that digital technology has a strong ecological impact.
This is for three reasons:
First, the devices we use to access the Internet ( computers, smartphones) are highly polluting when they are manufactured. and which consume a lot of energy; data centers, i.e.
Second, the places where data is stored consume a lot of energy. It also produces heat and therefore needs a cool place. Consequently, the facility consumes even more.
Finally, the network itself ( the antennas, cables, routers, etc.) is also very polluting and consumes a lot of energy. Having said that, audio streaming platforms are not the most energy-consuming. If you listen to music in standard quality, i.e. 96kbps, whether it’s on your app, on the web player, or on your computer, you will only consume 1GB of data in 23h08. On the other hand, if you listen to good quality tracks (i.e. 320kbps), this same GB will be consumed in 7 hours, which is relatively little in terms of consumption. Video streaming, on the other hand, is much more important. In comparison, watching a movie on Netflix in HD is 3Gb per hour, so more than 20 times more. By the way, Netflix alone occupies an estimated 15% of the world’s bandwidth.
In the end, we can’t really decide and tell you to consume music online. As you can see, some streaming platforms are more or less problematic. We can try to limit the breakage, but in reality streaming itself raises real questions. As long as the streaming players to pay the artists better, it will not change. Our action as consumers is limited, and unfortunately, only a global action could change things. That’s why we must continue to speak out on this kind of subject.