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How streaming platforms are changing the way we listen to music


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

John Yang: Some of the nominees at tonight's Grammy Awards rose to fame and popularity on music streaming platforms like Spotify and social media apps like TikTok. Stephanie Sy takes a look at the changing ways we're listening to music and the challenges and opportunities that come with it.

Stephanie Sy: This week, Spotify passed 200 million paid subscribers. Later this month, Amazon Music will bump up their subscription price. And Universal Music, the largest label in the world, is partnering with Tidal to create what they say will be a more artist and fan friendly music streaming model. Long gone are the days when most people listen to music on the radio, a CD or their record player.

Today, over 50 percent of all the music we listen to, we stream 9 percent of people opt for free ad supported music streaming and 11 percent get their music from short video apps like TikTok.

For a deeper look at the factors driving how we listen to music and how that impacts the industry, I'm joined by Ann Powers, NPR music's critic and correspondent. Anne Powers, it's great to have what I understand as a fellow Beyonce fan with us. I actually want to start with that because the Grammys are tonight and one question I have is how platforms like TikTok and Spotify influence who is nominated for an award.

Ann Powers: The real place where streaming platforms are changing the game for artists, I think is at the level of emerging artists. So I want to focus on two who are nominated in the Best New Artist category, both of whom are actually jazz artists and young jazz artists. There's the duo of Domi and JD Beck who are amazing instrumentalists and they've really found success on YouTube with their dazzling displays of virtuosity, including NPR Music's Tiny Desk concert. They have a really great one.

And then Samara Joy, the jazz singer who has won the Cerevan competition, is quite a conventional, traditional jazz singer, but using TikTok has found an audience of young people and is out there saying jazz is a young person's music. She is using social media to bring classic jazz to a whole new generation.

Stephanie Sy: You're getting at, I guess, the crux of my question, which is the democratization of music and maybe DIY talent, where they found fame simply by streaming on YouTube. That was their only distributor, they didn't need a major label whether that is one of the benefits of streaming services.

Ann Powers: You have artists who are writing their own music on their laptops and then putting it directly up on services like SoundCloud, for example. You have independent streaming services, or rather platforms like Bandcamp who are really working with artists to stay independent.

At the same time, though, it's complicated because the bigger, best known streaming platforms like Spotify, like YouTube are not necessarily benefiting artists financially that much.

Stephanie Sy: Are these platforms also influencing how mainstream artists may be producing music?

Ann Powers: I think they are. I mean, not only in that streaming has brought back the music video very strongly. Someone like Harry Styles, another multiple nominee tonight, you know, he's a very visual artist, and I think he gets a lot out of making exciting videos that go viral on the platforms.

But also it creates a different relationship between these mega stars and their audiences. There's a way in which we feel that we know Beyonce, for example. Well, I don't know. Do you feel that you know Beyonce? I feel I know her just a little.

Stephanie Sy: I do. I definitely do.

Ann Powers: Because she discloses what she wants to disclose of her life through streaming platforms and through Instagram, for example. Doing that, we feel a connection to these stars. They create a connection between us and them.

Stephanie Sy: I remember Radiohead always raging against Spotify, along with Taylor Swift. Back in 2013, as you may remember, Tom York, the lead singer, said that Spotify was, quote, the last desperate fart of a dying corpse. And he condemned the service for disconnecting the artist from the listener. There's still those complaints from many artists that Spotify in particular does not pay them what they're worth.

Ann Powers: I think for the major artists on major labels, it's a lot better than it used to be. Where it's really hurt artists is the middle class and emerging artists who now only get fractions of pennies from releases and talk about that all the time on other streaming platforms, like Twitter, for example. There's been a lot of efforts by artists, whether it's to raise awareness, to try to organize as workers, or now, as you mentioned, the Universal Music Group deal with Tidal, you know, to try to figure out a way to be more equitable with artists.

And of course, Tidal is an artist own platform founded by Jay Z, Beyonce's partner. So, you know, there are attempts, but it's still really tough for artists. It's harder than it used to be for people to make a living as musicians.

Stephanie Sy: It all goes back to Queen Bey. Ann Powers, NPR music critic and correspondent, thank you so much for joining us.

Ann Powers: Thank you so much for having me.

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