In the same way Netflix and Amazon Prime have changed how we watch TV and films, streaming companies have revolutionised the way we listen to music.
In 2014, almost 15 billion songs were streamed in the UK - that’s 560 per household - with streaming (which basically means listening to music via the web, without even having to download it) accounting for 12.6% of our overall music consumption. When you take into account the industry was worth just over £1 billion in 2014 too, that’s a sizeable financial chunk.
There’s still a way to go before it takes over downloading completely, which accounts for almost 40% of the UK music industry, but the number of people streaming is on the rise - dramatically.
In 2015, it’s destined to become even more mainstream, as the companies grow in reputation, the technology becomes easier to access and broadband speeds get faster.
Market leader Spotify is available on various smart TVs and set-top boxes, while all streaming services will have apps for mobile use alongside their desktop versions, plus integration with speaker manufacturers like Sonos. Taxi-booking app Uber now even has the facility to play music from your Spotify account over the car stereo while you’re travelling.
The arrival of a new service like Tidal is something that will undoubtedly help streaming become even more of an everyday proposition.
Initially founded in 2014, it was bought by Jay-Z earlier this year and swiftly relaunched with much fanfare, with a raft of the rapper’s starry friends extolling Tidal’s virtues.
Jack White has reportedly been calling random Tidal subscribers to tell them they’re making a great choice (that from a man who previously talked as if he only listened to 78s on his gramophone!).
Among other benefits, the likes of White, Coldplay, Calvin Harris and Madonna were trumpeting the fact Tidal streams higher quality audio than its competitors and, in not offering any free service (although you can get a free 30-day trial), they can afford to pay artists more per stream than their rivals, too.
Both laudable aims - digital music has previously sounded dreadful to a discerning ear - and the fees artists earn from millions of streams are laughable. Spotify pays between 0.006 and 0.0084 US dollars per stream, and despite claims from founder Daniel Ek that his company has paid out more than two billion in fees, many are unhappy. Taylor Swift famously removed her music from the service around the release of her album 1989 last year - a decision that will have paid dividends when it became one of only 18 ever to sell a million copies in its first week on sale; she’d have earned relative peanuts for the same number of streams.
Whether a group of multi-millionaires telling the public they want to earn more money will get any traction remains to be seen, but they’re right that artists - mainly the independent, jobbing musicians out there - need to earn more money from streaming, if it’s to become the only way we consume music.
Aside from Tidal, most services offer free access at first, although it will be a reduced package featuring adverts, or limitations on how much music you can listen to.
Blinkbox Music - formerly We7, before being bought by Tesco and rebranded, and then sold again earlier this year - and MixRadio, are about the cheapest out there at £4.33 a month (or £1 a week) and £3.99 a month respectively. The rest are £9.99 a month for unlimited, advert-free streaming, although Tidal’s hi-res Tidal HiFi, which streams ‘lossless’ CD-quality, is £19.99 a month.
That’s Tidal’s unique selling point at the moment, although it is expensive and relies on the ethics and pocket depth of the user to spend the extra tenner a month.
QUALITY AND QUANTITY
If audio quality isn’t your main concern, and saving a tenner a month is, you’ll likely go for Tidal Premium, or even more likely, stick with Spotify, which has the most subscribers of any service - 60 million users, 15 million of them paying subscribers.
All the services have a similar number of tracks, Deezer coming out on top with 35 million to Spotify and Google Play’s 30 million and Tidal’s 25, and each have the same omissions - no Beatles, Eagles, Garth Brooks or AC/DC, with various holes in each service.
Perhaps all bets might be off when Apple finally launch their streaming service iTunes Radio, rumoured to be later this year?