Today’s announcement that Beatport and SoundCloud have both made partnerships with Pioneer, allowing DJs to stream tracks from the cloud straight into their mixing software, is bad news for smaller labels.
The only thing that has actually changed this week is that DJs can now queue up tracks from Beatport and SoundCloud into Pioneer’s WeDJ app – which is a toy, more or less. But the implications of this on the music industry as a whole are pretty enormous. By the autumn of this year, the integration will make its way into rekordbox, which effectively paves the way for DJs to play entire live sets full of tracks they’re accessing through a subscription service.
It’s difficult to know exactly what this will mean for the future of live DJing until it really gets into people’s hands, but it will probably signal a paradigm shift as large as the advent of CDJs at the end of the 90s.
What does it mean for artists?
The problem for smaller labels, and producers in niche genres like underground progressive house, is that the vast majority of their revenue comes from DJs. Most casual listeners don’t buy individual singles anymore, opting instead to either stream those on Spotify or just listen to recorded sets on SoundCloud.
New single releases can fetch up to $2.49 on Beatport and, while the producer certainly doesn’t end up seeing much of that, it’s still an opportunity for small labels to get some return on their investment and stay committed to releasing decent underground music.
If you think about it, many DJs buy tracks and only play them a few times, or just once, or maybe not even at all. I can think of many times I’ve bought tracks in a bit of a panic before a big night, not ended up playing them, and then basically never listened to them again. But the label still made $2 out of me, and I don’t for one moment regret making the purchase.
Now, I don’t know exactly what the payment terms are on either Beatport LINK or SoundCloud Go, but let’s assume it’s roughly the same as the Spotify system. On Spotify, tracks earn between $0.006 and $0.0084 per play. So let’s say 300 DJs pick up your niche progressive track and play it out an average of 3 times…
300 x 3 x $0.007 = $6.30
So that’s a total of $6.30 earned as a result of your hard work – and by the time the label has taken their share, it’s barely enough for a coffee.
Under the current system, of course, you’d have sold the track 300 times at $2 a pop, leaving you with $600 earned and at least a reasonable portion of that in your pocket.
Artists on bigger labels which can rely on a much greater volume of plays will obviously not feel the bite so hard. But the effect on the smaller guys, who already earn peanuts for their contribution to the scene, will be catastrophic.
What does it mean for music?
It doesn’t take a visionary to foresee the domino effect of underground musicians being more heavily penalised by this than musicians on bigger labels. Anyone who wants to make a serious living from music has no choice but to appeal to the marketing machine. And as such, there’s a lower incentive to be experimental and innovative with music.
Good music will obviously not go away. The truth is that musicians already know they will be poorly paid for their work, and they certainly don’t do it for money. But the influence of this in the long term is not likely to be positive on underground music.
It just seems that technology has kind of eroded the authenticity of electronic music over the years, in a way that we haven’t seen with other genres. Pioneer took the opportunity this week to announce a new budget DJ controller, the DDJ-200, that serves as further evidence that they’re trying to break down the barriers of entry to DJing, and make it accessible to as many people as possible.
The end of the USB stick?
I was thinking the other day that you don’t even really see USB sticks much anymore. And hey, what did you know? Looks like their days of being on a DJ’s keyring could be numbered.
This, in itself, has some interesting implications on the performance of electronic music. You can only presume that decks in clubs will soon be connected to the WiFi, streaming all of the content that the DJ is playing – which brings about its own issues. What if the connection drops at some point? What about the security implications, like someone bombing the network with data or interfering with the signal?
And then what about piracy? Could the authorities actually demand that clubs use this new technology, as a means of protecting against illegal downloads? Because, three years from now if this really catches on in clubs, it could seem a bit dodgy turning up with a USB stick in hand. “What you got on there, mate?” At the end of the day, if you’re not subscribed to SoundCloud Go+, it’s probably because you’re hoarding illegal mp3s.
But then, what about unreleased tracks? There’s gotta be a way for Lee Burridge to keep hitting us with All Day I Dream epics that we, frustratingly, won’t get our hands on for 18 months. In a way this news is timely, given that Lee recently posted a shocking Facebook post about a clubgoer stealing his USB stick at the end of a gig. This move will certainly protect against that from happening – though he will have to make sure he logs out, to ensure that the next guy doesn’t start queuing up all his new material.
Another resurgence in vinyl?
There’s already tons of blowback from this on news sites like Resident Advisor and Mixmag, but it’s unclear whether or not there could be any serious movement against this news.
I’ve been wondering if maybe vinyl could enjoy another boost in popularity within the next 5 years, as music fanatics cling on dearly to the concept of actually owning music. This kind of movement wouldn’t probably be big enough to make much of a difference though, because vinyl is typically expensive, impractical and reliant on more equipment and space. Don’t get me wrong, I cherish my vinyl collection – but I think it’ll only ever appeal to a select few.
Ultimately, we can only wait and see what actually happens with cloud-based DJing setups when they start to take hold. And if electronic music does lose some of its magic in the coming years, it’ll be difficult to know for sure if this was to blame.