music-streaming

A stream of music (image: Sofia Sabbagh)

Apart from my love of co-operatives, I enjoy listening to music. Nothing too remarkable about that. From an early age, this was my ‘thing’. My hometown where I grew up, Narrandera, had a strong focus on sport. Purchasing Scary Monsters and Super Creeps at about age eight, and then talking about it at school didn’t win me any kudos, to say the least. Perhaps it was due to my mum, who, studying behavioral science by correspondence, conducted a number of musical experiments. I remember maggots in test tubes being exposed to both baroque and bubblegum pop. Those maggots exposed to Bach did better. I too, was exposed to a range of interesting music from a very early age; although I can categorically state that I do not think that I turned out to be a maggot. I hope that most would agree.

The love of music stuck. Playing in a garage band followed; then eventually I enjoyed playing slowcore shoegazer tunes in an outfit in the 90s, before student politics got the better of me. Then parenthood and then … I … just … lost … touch. I have the vinyl and CD collection and I still play a bit, but new listening pleasures started to escape me until Spotify came along.

What has this got to do with co-operatives? Bear with me.

Spotify for a rock snob like me is heavenly. I started listening to the classics (according to me) like Nick Drake, Cardinal, Bluetile Lounge, Scott Walker, Stereolab while mixing in a bit of Steve Reich and even Angus MacLise (yes he can be found there) and then the system kicks in by predicting other ‘old’ and new releases. It is scarily accurate. I feel like the algorithm has allowed me to reconnect with the canon.

But then the guilt kicks in. Data journalist David McCandless did the numbers. It’s not entirely accurate, but he estimates that it takes about 1,117,021 listens of a song on Spotify for a signed solo artist to make the US minimum wage for a month. Sure, there are a lot of listeners on Spotify compared to other platforms but you can see that with 0.0011 cents per listen it makes it difficult for a solo artist to make the minimum wage; in fact McCandless estimates that there would be about 2% on the platform who could claim this.

I’ve written previously that online sharing platforms like Spotify (and Uber) are extracting huge profit from the relationships they facilitate; in this case between recording musician and listener. The ownership structure of these ‘sharing economy’ platforms is similar to an old-fashioned company. External investors own, while the sharing generates their profit.

Now to the punchline. An online streaming music platform has established itself as a co-operative setting out to change all of this. Resonate describes itself as a streaming music company owned by artists, fans, labels, managers and agents. They estimate that the online platform will be able to pay artists up to 2.5 times more than competitors like Spotify. These kinds of new co-operative enterprises have been termed platform cooperatives. I don’t know about you but even though I love Spotify as a way to listen to music, I think it is ripe for some ownership disruption. I’ll be signing up to the alternative.

Antony McMullen