After watching Billie Eilish perform a storming set at Coachella, I decided to write an article this month that focused on music streaming – which, in its many forms, has all but transformed the music industry in recent years. To the uninitiated, she’s probably the most recent example of an artist who simply would not have the global impact she has without streaming platforms, being able to take risks with her sound that a typical release strategy from even just a few years ago would not have allowed.
At just 17, she became the youngest female artist to top the UK album chart with When We All Fall Asleep Where Do We Go?
It’s an album that has managed to become a huge hit on streaming by being daring and unique, rather than the usual idea that hit streaming records all sound the same.
Written and produced in its entirety by Billie and her brother Finneas, they were allowed to consistently do their own thing due to a small but dedicated fanbase consistently streaming every EP or single release that allowed the pair to do their own thing, pushing each release up to the top of the current lead Spotify or Apple Music playlist. For me, it’s some of the most exciting music I’ve heard all year, from a young artist who otherwise wouldn’t have made it onto my radar.
Acts like Khalid, Dua Lipa, Chance The Rapper, Juice WRLD and Billie Eilish have been releasing some of the most interesting mainstream music in years, where the exposure the accessibility streaming offers has been enough to go out on tour at the sorts of venues new acts would only dream of filling. There’s a collaborative experience for the fans of these acts, too, when a new full length album is released, sharing their immediate responses to everything online as part of some sort of global listening party.
For me, every Friday is all but dedicated to listening to every new release I see people talking about on Twitter. This would be impossible to sustain without a premium streaming subscription.
The worldwide nature of streaming services has also allowed the recent trend of cross-genre, cross-language music to become commonplace for all of us. It’s not just the likes of ‘Despacito’ though; the equally unavoidable ‘Mi Gente’ catapulted reggeaton star J Balvin into the top five most streamed acts across all genres in 2018. Would I have even given Rosalia’s tremendous album El mal querer a listen if the Spanish language hadn’t become so integrated into the music I was hearing?
Would K-Pop groups like Blackpink and BTS be touring arenas and Wembley Stadium(!) respectively for similar reasons? Would country music, of all things, have become so popular across the globe? The likes of Thomas Rhett, Kacey Musgraves and Carrie Underwood are finding huge audiences in places where physical country albums would never have even been distributed. Being able to engage with music that was previously so difficult to encounter has changed the music landscape – can you imagine having to import an album so you could listen to it alongside the rest of the world?
The accessibility that streaming has given me as a music fan continues to be a revolution. I can return to that Sade album my dad used to listen to when I was growing up in an instant, or decide that it’s finally time for me to go back and listen through Nas’s Illmatic. Of course it creates the infinite paradox of choosing what to listen to out of a seemingly infinite library, but personally I do that with the my physical media libraries too. I’m just indecisive by nature.
If you wanted me to mention the obvious ways this idea falls down, I could easily do it. You end up with the biggest streaming hit of all time, Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You, sounding like about 100 other songs on a playlist. But I’m more than happy to go back a few decades and pull out a series of examples of this happening back then too. The difference is surely the volume of music that people are able to consume at any one time and the variety of genres available at once.
After some teething issues, that have left the music charts in a bit of a mess to say the least, streaming has lodged itself as the natural evolution of music consumption. It gives the power back to both the artists, who don’t have the same restrictive need for physical production, but also the listeners, who can discover something brand new every single day.
Words by Sam Atkins