The Music Industry in the Modern World: Sexist, Ageist or Both?

 

Image source: popandon.com

 

Whilst the ‘oldie-but-goodies’ artists are still making their mark on the streaming charts, the youngsters of pop appear to be grasping number ones more often than the rain falls in Britain.

 

Following the release of 20-year-old Camila Cabello’s solo debut album ‘Camilla’, she has officially debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with 119,000 units, making her the youngest artist in history to achieve this milestone since Shawn Mendes with “Handwritten”. 22-year-old Troye Sivan ia also “taking over the streaming world”, with his latest single “My My My!” averaging just above 1.5 million streams daily on Spotify since its first day on Thursday.

 

With 22-year-old Dua Lipa leading the BRITs nominations with a whopping 5 nominations, she is just one of the “30 under 30s” leading the entertainment industry. With the incredible recent success of younger artists, an important question arises: are the youth beginning to take over the music industry?

 

According to Forbes, the top five most streamed artists of 2017 in the US were Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Future, Ed Sheeran and The Weeknd – the oldest being Future, aged 34. Interestingly, not only are all these artists all aged 34 or under, but they also all appear to be male; perhaps highlighting that the issue lies not within ageism in the streaming industry but instead gender inequalities.

 

Whilst there has been a gradual sense of progression within Western societies surrounding gender inequalities, such as the recent #MeToo Twitter campaign, patriarchal ideologies still somewhat appear to remain within the entertainment industries. For example, Taylor Swift stated in an interview with 2 Day FM Sydney that patriarchal values are still deeply embedded in the music industry, raising the point that she gets negatively labelled as “going on about her ex boyfriends” when male artists such as Ed Sheeran do the same but don’t receive any negative labelling or criticism for it.

 

In a recent interview with BBC, former singer Kate Nash discusses both ageism and sexism within the music industry, stating that “the music industry makes every musician feel like they’re failing. It’s so much about putting women down. A lot of artists are quite mentally fragile,” she continues. “I don’t think they’re thinking about the mental safety of a lot of young artists.” Here, Nash raises a point about the vulnerability of young artists, highlighting that they are treated improperly, particularly female artists.

 

So why do ageism and gender inequalities still remain in the music industry despite social change? Perhaps one explanation for the inexplicit sense of ageism in the streaming charts is fuelled by the demographics of Spotify users. In a recent survey, Statista revealed that 21 percent of respondents aged 18 to 29 stated that they used Spotify several times per day – a significantly higher figure in comparison to older Spotify users. Streaming music is still a fairly contemporary term, which is perhaps understood greater by younger generations than the older generations.

 

In addition, technological advancements such as social media platforms have perhaps had an equal participation, as fans are now enabled to connect with artists and musicians in a unique way. Social media applications such as Instagram, Twitter and YouTube have allowed artists to share personal affairs and additional content with fans that have never been available in previous years.

 

However, whilst this perhaps explains the success of younger artists in the streaming charts, it fails to depict why a gender division is still existent.

 

The gender pay gap is still very much existent and women are still battling for equal rights globally. Only over the past twenty-four hours there have been both women and men marching through the streets of Washington D.C., Las Vegas, New York, Los Angeles, London and other major global cities, protesting against President Donald Trump and other patriarchal issues such as women coming forward to open up about experiences of sexual harassment and assault and the #MeToo campaign.

 

Whilst streaming services have many benefits such as convenience and immediateness, perhaps technology has also had a negative impact on the music industry – not only in terms of sales and royalties but also in terms of reinforcing harmful ideologies by inadvertently forming age gaps and underpinning inexplicit patriarchal values.

Streaming Games: A Convenient Blessing or a Pricey Curse?

Image source: Sims 4

 

Whilst the concept of streaming is usually focused on music, television and film, computer and console games are now available to stream in ways in which they previously haven’t. In the contemporary world, gaming has become more than just a hobby – it has become an international phenomena. YouTube gaming star PewDiePie has been named the sixth richest YouTuber in the world, and gaming has become so popular in South Korea that it has even been named as their  national sport.

 

Perhaps one of the most well known game streaming services is Origin, an application which can be downloaded onto computers and laptops via the Internet. Origin is a unique, contemporary platform which enables users to download and stream Electronic Arts games directly from the comfort of their own home. Origin allows users to play offline or directly stream from the application with other players, depending on the game. It also recently launched a subscription service, Origin Access, in which members can “explore an instant collection of 75+ PC games and play as much as you want. Origin Access members also get to try new EA games before they’re released and save 10% on Origin purchases at the cost of £3.99 a month and £19.99 a year.

 

One of Origin’s best selling games in Electronic Arts’ flagship game The Sims 4Prior to the release of the franchise’s latest stuff pack, Electronic Arts and partners Maxis developed a survey webpage in which they invited fans of the franchise to ‘customise’ their own stuff pack and gameplay pack, allowing them to guide the direction of the pack via a voting system on Survey Monkey. This consisted of six stages of voting, including a theme vote, art style vote, objects and clothing vote, feature vote, pack icon vote and pack title vote. This was both a bold and atypical move for Electronic Arts and Maxis as they had never previously reached out to gamers in this format, allowing users to feedback opinion and input their creative ideas, giving players more freedom and choice when it comes to The Sims 4.

 

Another gaming platform which allows users to purchase and stream games online is Steamwhich shares similar values to Origin but offers games outside of Electronic Arts productions. However, Steam does not have any form of subscription service, meaning members only spend money on individual games without gaining any additional offers or content.

 

An advantage to creators distributing their games online are that games often get frequently updated and creators and fans have a platform in which new content can be made more accessible, faster and easier than ever before. However, this shift in technological advancement does come at a price. For example, Dontnod Entertainment’s Life Is Strange shares similar features to that of a subscription in the sense that users purchase a “season pass” in which they gain access to instantly download or stream different episodes, however these episodes are only released every 6-8 weeks and can be bought either individually at £4.99 per episode or as a “season pass” at £13.99, with the deluxe extended edition costing £19.99. Whilst gamers feel as if they are getting more for their money buying full or deluxe editions, the distinction between pre-streaming games and post-streaming games mean that gamers are effectively having to transition from buying full content games to content being released over periods of time for an extra cost.

 

Many streaming gaming services have received heavy criticism for this, particularly by selling standard game packages initially and then later adding DLC (downloadable content), with users complaining “I have an issue paying 100 dollars for a game now”. Whilst this shift in distribution of gaming has made it easier to instantly download or stream computer and console games, many believe that gaming industries are exploiting customers by taking advantage of instant downloads and charging more money for less content.

 

In addition, many games available on consoles such as Grand Theft Auto Online 5 have now embedded features where gamers can choose to spend real money in order to get money in the game in order to help them progress. Following various complaints, production company Rockstar offered players $500,000 in digital currency to GTA Online players during the month of October in order to apologise for the backlash and launch issues.

 

Whilst the gaming industry is undeniably growing in popularity and in profit, it does appear to be costing players a lot more money in order to receive the same content they were receiving before at a cheaper price, quite possibly related to technological advancements. However, perhaps gaming subscription services and episodic series are the way forward for players who feel this way because, similarly to other media subscription sites such as Spotify, Apple Music and Netflix, capped prices make happy customers.

 

Back To Black

Image source: Leserigraphe.com

With the highly anticipated release of the fourth series of Netflix original Black Mirror on the 29th December 2017, it has come as no surprise that fans have been spending their new year frantically binge watching all six episodes before the twists are spoiled on social media.

However, whilst fans of the show are excited to get their teeth into six brand new episodes, it is worth pointing out that Black Mirror was not always a Netflix original and used to be broadcasted on television on Channel 4 until it was bought by Netflix in 2015. Additionally, the show would only broadcast three episodes per series, excluding series two Christmas special ‘White Christmas’, and the series were released about two years apart. Whilst Black Mirror is an interesting portrayal of how technology has impacted the way in which we communicate in the present and near future, its transition from television broadcast to instant streaming perhaps makes Netflix a perfect platform for the show, as it is argued that streaming services such as Netflix have changed the ways in which we watch television shows.

Black Mirror is not the only show to have adapted to this streaming format either, with Netflix’s flagship shows such as global phenomena Orange Is The New Black, dark drama Thirteen Reasons Why and sci-fi Stranger Things. All four titles follow a format of all episodes being released at the same time, designed to be ‘binge-watched’, contrasting from more traditional formats of American cable shows which typically feature around 20-23 40-minute long episodes per series – and are usually also broken down into two ‘half’ series. Producing shows this way not only means that the episodes are longer, typically around an hour per episode, but it also means that there are only usually around 8-13 episodes per series. However, Black Mirror is an exception for this as there are only six episodes per series. Not only does this format of broadcasting shows mean that there are less and longer episodes, but streaming in this format can also impact the way in which producers measure the success of a show – as shows are sometimes deemed unsuccessful if they fail to perform a binge-worthy function.

However, it is not just Netflix that have adapted to this ‘binge watching’ format, other streaming services such as Amazon Prime have also created flagship shows such as Transparent, Lucifer and contemporary Top Gear substitution The Grand Tour. In addition, BBC iPlayer and Sky have also experimented debuting major series online, making this method of broadcasting increasingly common.

‘Binge watching’ shows has become increasingly popular for subscribers of streaming services. According to a recent set of statistics released by Netflix, it has been revealed that more than five million users had ‘binge raced’ (watched an entire series in under twenty four hours) in 2017 compared to just 200,000 in 2013. Nielson also revealed that over 361,000 people binge watched all nine episodes of the second series of Stranger Things the first day it became available on Netflix. YouGov also conducted a survey which showed that millennials in particular are more likely to binge watch series than older adults. A separate YouGov survey also found that the reason that 59% of US adults prefer to binge watch is because they want to view the whole narrative at once.

Whilst streaming services have seemed to have taken over the television industry, it is also important to consider the wide variety of catch up and on demand services too. A recent study by Ofcom revealed that 79% of adults in the UK use catch up services such as BBC iPlayer to binge watch television. Major companies such as BBC have struggled more with this transition, enforcing a stricter policy on obtaining a television Licence in 2016. Whilst catch up services such as Channel 4 and ITV have merely adapted to this new format, the BBC have perhaps experienced more difficulties due to being a government-funded non-commercial corporation.

Regardless of how they are viewed, television shows are becoming increasingly popular and still perform a significant role in the contemporary film and television industry. Whilst many believe streaming services are ‘killing’ television, it could be argued that television broadcasting is merely adapting to new formats – making streaming and watching catch-up/ on demand more convenient for users as they can, to an extent, watch whatever they want whenever they want.

Image source

Reputation Available For The Nation

Image source: Newyorker.com

With the highly anticipated release of Taylor Swift’s ‘Reputation’ on November 10th 2017, it came as quite a shock when Swift announced that the album would be released on all streaming platforms via social media earlier this month. ‘Reputation’ was noticeably missing from all streaming platforms the day of its release, a strategy previously used by Adele, thought to boost album sales. However, for Swift, this move appears somewhat contradictory due to the controversy she stirred when she eliminated her entire music profile from all streaming services. In addition, Swift had previously written a public letter following the launch of Apple Music, highlighting the lack of financial profit artists make when their music is streamed as opposed to being purchased.

In Swift’s public letter to Apple Music following their decision to not pay artists for the costumers’ initial three month free streaming trial, she wrote “I’m not sure you know that Apple Music will not be paying writers, producers, or artists for those three months. I find it to be shocking, disappointing, and completely unlike this historically progressive and generous company.” Whilst Swift points out that she is aware that “Apple is working towards a goal of paid streaming”, which she describes as “beautiful progress”, she essentially underlines the impact contemporary streaming services have on artists’ royalties.

However, Swift makes a point that she is fortunate enough to be in a position where she doesn’t necessarily suffer from this financial loss, highlighting that this is not just about her, but instead “about the new artist or band that has just released their first single and will not be paid for its success”, “the young songwriter who just got his or her first cut and thought that the royalties from that would get them out of debt”, and the “producer who works tirelessly to innovate and create… but will not get paid for a quarter of a year’s worth of plays on his or her songs.” Whilst Swift is making a valid point here, perhaps the blame lies not on Apple but instead the effect technology has had on the music industry in contemporary society. Whilst contemporary consumers still enjoy listening to music, I suppose streaming makes financial sense for individuals – why would you pay £10+ per album when you can access a practically limitless library of music for £10 a month, or even at £5 a month for students?

Streaming music has entirely changed the ways in which we access and listen to music, which was subsequently impacted artists’ royalties. In the modern world, most artists now earn money from merchandising, YouTube and publicity. However, if unsuccessful or new artists emerge into the music industry they can end up with a lot of debt. It is estimated that around only 1% of artists actually succeed in the music industry, which is an exceptionally small amount. Given that streaming music has become a contemporary norm, it is no surprise that artists’ royalties have declined, considering that streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music charge a small fee of £10 per month. This fee is even less for students like myself, who are charged only £5 per month to access an unlimited number of songs whenever and wherever they want to.

In addition, the broad varieties of streaming services can make it difficult for consumers to pick which service to use. For example, for a long while Taylor Swift eliminated her music profile on Spotify but made it available to stream on Apple Music. Another service, created by Jay Z, is Tidal, which predominantly embraces RnB music whilst aiming “to be a service that benefits both users and artists”. Tidal retails ‘Tidal Exclusives’, such as Beyoncé’s ‘Lemondade’ and, more recently, Jay Z’s ‘4:44’. However, like Swift, Beyoncé eventually caved in and released ‘Lemonade’ on Apple Music. Additionally, Kayne West’s ‘Life of Pablo’ was originally released as purchase only. However, with the album pricing as high as $20, ‘Life of Pablo’ got Kanye into millions of dollars of debt, and he was eventually forced to release the album onto all digital streaming services.

In conclusion, whilst technology has allowed fans and consumers to interact with artists better through platforms such as social media, it has also had a massive impact on artists’ royalties and earnings, making it harder to ‘make it’ in the contemporary music industry. However, this increase in social media has also perhaps made it easier for artists to get noticed in the form of going ‘viral’ on YouTube. Whilst there is evidently still money in the industry, the music industry has had to adapt to modern forms of listening and sharing music due to changes in technology.

Image source