Is music streaming bad for musicians? Problems of evidence and argument

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Great controversy has surrounded the growth of the music streaming services that are now central to the music industries internationally. One important set of criticisms concerns the amount of money that music creators receive for the recorded music that is distributed on these services. Many claim that music streaming has made it harder than before for musicians to make a living from music. This article identifies and discusses some significant problems of argument and evidence surrounding these criticisms, as follows: (a) a dubious focus on ‘per-stream’ rates offered by music streaming services, (b) a failure to see streaming services as part of wider systems of music and ownership, (c) tendencies towards simplification when systemic problems are taken into account, and (d) the limited evidence provided when commentators claim, imply or assume that the system has become notably less just. It then discusses debates concerning what might be done to improve the system, especially whether ‘user-centric’ systems of payment might be adopted, instead of the current ‘pro-rata’ system. The article suggests that more musicians rather than fewer might now be able to earn money from recorded music than in preceding recorded-music systems. But it also proposes that the current system retains the striking inequalities and generally poor working conditions that characterised its predecessors, and that better debate requires greater transparency about usage and payment on the part of streaming services and music businesses.




Hesmondhalgh, D. (2021). Is music streaming bad for musicians? Problems of evidence and argument. New Media and Society, 23(12), 3593–3615.

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