The following MBW ope/ed comes from Garrett Levin (pictured), President and CEO of the Digital Media Association (DiMA). With headquarters in Washington D.C, DiMA represents the interests of some of the world’s leading music streaming companies, including Spotify, Amazon, Apple, YouTube and Pandora.
The music business in 2020 experienced an unprecedented cacophony of events. Live music businesses tragically shuttered. A virtual performance market emerging. Yet despite it all, music lived on through streaming as it continued to be embraced by nearly every American with an Internet connection, even in the face of a global health crisis and massive economic disruption.
This is not the only 2020 storyline in music, but it is certainly one of the more hopeful: the full-fledged consumer embrace of streaming helped avert a total collapse of the music business. As one analyst put it: “streaming remains resilient,” with “music industry revenues [holding up] relatively well compared to other industries during the COVID-19 pandemic. The growth of digital streaming has allowed consumers to access and enjoy music regardless of social distancing restrictions.”
“The full-fledged consumer embrace of streaming helped avert a total collapse of the music business in 2020.”
In 2020, the economy experienced a virtual free fall. While the initial economic rebound was strong, the pace of improvement has slowed, with little immediate prospect for returning to early 2020 growth levels anytime soon.
The US unemployment rate stands at 6.7% and millions have dropped out of the labor force altogether. A variety of surveys capture the unease and anxiety over the state of the country. Many of our music community colleagues have experienced hardships and extraordinary challenges.
Despite this societal and economic uncertainty, music streaming – both in the volume of songs streamed and the number of fans paying for a subscription – continued to grow. That growth creates a robust foundation that will be critical for the music industry as we hopefully enter a period of broader recovery and eventually return to a new normal at some point next year.
None of us cares to contemplate what the music business would look like if a pandemic of this proportion occurred in 1995, when the business was entirely dependent on stores and physical sales.
Why is this the case and what lessons might we draw?
Countless studies have attested to music’s intrinsic psychological benefit, its capacity to help recuperate and rejuvenate. In trying times, music can be a salve or a welcome distraction.
Music streaming leverages superpowers unlike any distribution format in recorded music history. There is that direct relationship between fan and artist. Reams of data are available to empower artists and their teams to understand and better connect with those fans. Endless opportunities for curation, discovery of new music and instant 24-7 access, wherever the listener may be.
The 2020 music streaming service is your record store, jukebox, speaker, FM radio station, mp3 collection, MTV, set of liner notes and smart music friend all wrapped together in one captivating experience. And critically, streaming services allow you to access all of that without leaving your home—a vitally important characteristic over the past year.
That does not happen by accident nor without creative genius, effort or expense. It is the result of the incredible music that continues to be created by talented artists and songwriters. Even amidst a pandemic that has shuttered so many outlets and opportunities, the quality and quantity of music available to fans is unsurpassed, a testament to the genius of the creative community.
It is also the result, in part, of the significant investment by the streaming services in consumer-friendly experiences that attract and engage users in a hyper-competitive digital media landscape. The broader competition for fans’ attention and time grows more intense each passing day. The fan is one of our north stars and this is an industry that knows well the perils of insufficiently embracing the innovation that consumers demand.
All of this I hope we keep foremost in mind as we ready ourselves for the new year. For the foreseeable future, decisive action must be taken to “save our stages” and the entire live music industry, a campaign we proudly joined and support.
A viable industry for live music performances is critical for the larger music ecosystem. Live music venues are community gathering places, proving grounds for artists, and employers of many in the industry. Necessary relief for that struggling sector must be a priority.
“It is the result, in part, of the significant investment by the streaming services in consumer-friendly experiences that attract and engage users in a hyper-competitive digital media landscape.”
More than ever, I have grown to appreciate just how connected successes and failures are. Music’s resilience is impressive but not infallible.
We should be wary of rhetoric that essentially suggests burning the village in order to save it, or of proposals that ignore how the fundamental complexity of the business — including the balance of payouts to different rightsholders — contributes to the current economics for creators. Any honest reckoning of our business must examine what happens to the 69 cents of every dollar that digital music services pay to record companies, music publishers, and PROs.
For all of us who are part of the community supporting this artform that helped sustain us through this challenging year, our posture should be one of finding solutions and forging partnerships. That is ultimately the approach that resuscitated the music business from a decade-long decline, produced the durable foundation that helped sustain our community through this tumultuous time, and is one reason for continued optimism in the new year.
Music Business Worldwide