Clash of the “Streaming” Titans

Apple have a rich history of pioneering in the brave new digital music world. First came the iPod, changing the way the world listened to music forever. Next they revolutionised the digital music marketplace with their addition of the iTunes store, in an attempt to cap the financial hemorrhage that came with the digital revolution and music piracy.

Once the giants of the music technology industry, dictating the way in which we listened to our music and received our media, Apple have announced that they intend to do so again.

With services like Spotify boasting an 87% rise in users since last year, and the recording industry displaying for the first time ever an even spread of revenue from digital and physical sales, Apple have announced Apple Music in an attempt to grab their piece of the pie.

With such fierce competition, and new services being announced every week, lets take a look at what they’re really about, for the sake of both artists and consumers in this new music landscape.

Spotify

It’s no secret that tech giants have their sights firmly set on Spotify, in terms of users and profile, it wears the crown. But with some fierce contenders positioning to take them down a peg or two, have they got what it takes to hold their place at the top?

Price: Free / £9.99pm premium.

Runs on: IOS, Windows, Android, Linux, Samsung Smart TV, Playstation, XBox.

Library: 30m

Market Share:

Being one of the first services available, Spotify has gathered a formidable flock, and its growth shows no signs of holding up. This year Spotify grew to 75 million users in total, that’s up monumental 87% from the 40 million users just last year. Not only that but 20 million of these are paid subscribers, and the growth of paying users is proportional.

This doesn’t just make it difficult for rivals to compete, it also means that artists are keen to sign deals with the service to get their music heard by so many people. These deals are great for consumers as they mean exclusive content by their favourite artists.

Exclusive Content:

This includes the ability to listen to the biggest releases such as Lady Gaga’s ‘Born This Way’ 5 days before their official release. Not only this, but live recordings interviews and videos are available exclusively to premium users.

Although this is an undeniable bonus of the service, with Apple Music bagging huge names for its launch and other rivals such as Google having the profile to do so, this may not be exclusive to the service for long.

Artist Dissatisfaction:

On the flipside of the exclusive content for big name stars, many are also pulling their music all together from the service. Taylor Swift famously pulled all her music from the streaming service in a dispute over royalties. The service claim to give 70% of their entire revenue back to artists but this number is fiercely contested. It also pays to the record label not directly to the artist. Many high profile artists have spoken out against the unfair royalty payments of the service and many continue to pull their music. Another knife in the back of their exclusive content bonus.

Big Label Exclusivity:

For those on the other side of the fence, looking to get their music out there, Spotify is a tough nut to crack. Unlike other services Spotify only takes music from signed acts and deals directly with the record labels. For independent labels, or independent artists it will be incredibly hard to get your music on to the service and out to its millions of users.

Apple Music

This is the release everyone is talking about, one that Apple claimed at their press conference will once again revolutionise the way we listen to music. Out on the 30th June and in a telling of just how important this is to the company, available across all platforms including Windows and Android later this year. We don’t know everything about the service yet but we know enough to take a good look at what we can expect.

Price: $9.99pm / $15.99 family plan

Runs on: IOS, Windows, Android, Linux, Samsung Smart TV, Playstation, XBox.

Library: 30m

Useability:

Apple have a solid reputation for having the most solid, sleek applications and programs. This is sure to be the case for Apple music, which is split into 3 main areas. The first is the standard streaming service. This will work much like its rivals but integrate iTunes and the iTunes Store. This means any albums you have purchased in the store are instantly available to stream and your playlists are kept, as well as having the huge catalogue from the iTunes store, including Podcasts and all other media. Siri is also deeply integrated into the service.

Human Radio:

The second section of Apple Music is Beats 1 radio station. Named after the Beats streaming service the company recently bought, it will integrate into Apple Music. This is claimed to be the world’s first “truly global radio station”. With DJ’s in LA, New York and London, spearheaded by Zane Lowe and other huge DJ names Apple have snapped up for the service. This will be a 24 hour service broadcast live to the globe, creating a global collective experience never truly seen before. Time will tell whether this will be as revolutionary as it sounds, and what effect it will have on more local radio stations.

Another big part of this will be the playlist and radio curation. Apple’s leading man Iovine made a point of criticising other services for their radio stations and suggested playlists being curated by algorithms. This has become an increasing problem for services like Spotify and Deezer, users are becoming increasingly dissatisfied and the branches of the service are in jeopardy. However Apple claim all their playlists will be chosen by humans, all the new music you find will be from industry experts who know exactly what you’re looking for. In an age where tastemakers are on the decline and people look to digital media to introduce them to new music, this could be another game changer.

Independent Artists:

Ambitiously, given their far from successful track record with social media, the third part of this service will be a Myspace like social media platform for artists to interact with their fans. It will link to all current social media platforms and have pictures, songs, backstage videos and anything the artist wants to share with their audience. Combine this with the ease at which new independent artists can get their music on iTunes, and keep 100% of the royalties when someone purchases their work, and you have a huge pull for both upcoming artists and the huge demographic of people that support them.

In terms of royalties and artist payment it seems Apple are eager to please, which is good news for independent artists. Going from paying less than Spotify at 58% of the income going to artists, to 70% and now thanks to yet more intervention from Taylor Swift, Apple have announced they will pay the artists for streams of their songs during a 3 month free trial period. As this will essentially be a loss-leader for Apple, the fact they have changed their tune so ‘swiftly’ in the last few weeks, is a strong indication they want artists on their side.

Google Play Music

Another tech giant posturing to challenge the dominance of Spotify is Google. Still evolving and recently out of its beta, Google Play music is a real contender to Apple’s ambitious ideas, with a service appealing to both casual music fans and hardcore aficionados.

Price: Free / £9.99

Runs on: IOS, Windows, Android, Linux, Samsung Smart TV, Playstation, XBox.

Library: 18m

Niche:

Unlike its rivals, Google seems to have established a niche to set them apart from other services. In a market where fundamentally all these services do the same thing this is a very smart move, and one that is surprisingly rare in such a saturated medium. Google Music puts a large emphasis on music videos, when you pay $9.99 a month you can stream the latest videos to any device.

This has sparked debate over whether this is sensible, many argue that people mainly stream when travelling, unable to look at their phone and favouring a continuous playlist. However others maintain that there is just as much revenue gained from home use, where users interact with the media with bigger screen devices where the visual aspect is a selling point.

Google runs the risk of excluding those music fans whose taste lies further afield.

All Bases Covered:

Music videos have a limited reach, creating a tunnel vision of songs that are exclusively singles, and usually in the mainstream. By putting too much emphasis on this feature Google runs the risk of excluding those music fans whose taste lies further afield.

With a library consisting of 13 million tracks, under half that of Spotify and Deezer, Google’s method of appealing to this user base is by offering free streaming of up to 20,000 of your own songs to any device. This allows any user who has a large collection of music stored on any device, something most of us have left over from the iPod era, to turn almost any device into an iPod for free. All songs are saved online and available to you wherever you can get them, also allowing you to save them for offline mode. For music fans who have spent years building a collection this is surely an appealing feature.

Artist Platform:

Google has also considered the needs of Independent artists. It pays the highest amount of royalties to its artists by a fair margin, something that may entice big names away from its rivals and will surely be popular with independent artists. They will also be pleased with Google’s Artist Platform allowing artists to upload their music and choose how it is sold directly to Google Play, as opposed to using 3rd party services like iTunes.

Deezer:

Perhaps the underdog of the competition, Deezer packs some surprising benefits for a service that plays second fiddle to the big names.

Price: £5.99 (first 6 months) / £9.99

Runs on: IOS, Windows, Android, Linux, Samsung Smart TV, Playstation, XBox.

Library: 36m

Worldwide:

Deezer is available in 182 countries worldwide. This is substantial compared with Spotify’s 58. This means that although it doesn’t have quite as many subscribers, its potential reach is far greater.

It also has a larger library than any other service, boasting 36 million songs. This means that there are a great deal more live albums and obscure records from artists than any other service, which can be found immediately through the apps discography option.

Useability:

Comparatively Deezer is a sleek and very intuitive app, both on devices and desktop applications. The navigation is easier than its rivals, especially on mobile devices.

Deezer is known for being quite buggy, and will probably crash more than other applications

It’s ‘Hear This’ feature, comparative to Spotify’s discover is superior. It shows new releases from artists you listen to, unheard albums and the playlists created and suggested artists are more accurate than those of its current rivals. Among these benefits however, Deezer is known for being quite buggy, and will probable crash more than other applications, especially on lower quality devices.

Same Old:

Although there are some obvious benefits to using Deezer, it’s cheaper for a decent amount of time, offering half price for the first 6 months, the library is much larger and the app is easier to use, it really offers nothing new.

It pays the same amount of royalties to artists than Spotify, although it is easier to get music on the service using third party companies similar to iTunes. There is nothing that differentiates Deezer from its biggest rival Spotify, it is not trying anything exciting and new like Google or Apple, and offers only marginal benefits over its main rival. Unless you live in a country where other services are not available, Deezer gets lost in the crowd.

Streaming is gaining more traction by the day. These companies, although the biggest, are mere drops in the ocean in terms of services available. They will however, have a huge effect on how we listen to music in the years to come, but perhaps more importantly, will determine the shape of the music industry.

Still grasping at new avenues after the digital revolution made the music business’ model of revenue redundant, perhaps we are now seeing the start of a new model and a way music companies can once again secure a dependable revenue for artists and musicians.

Time will tell what effect this will have on us as consumers of music, and whether any of these companies can provide for us as artists in the digital music landscape.

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