The Shift: Wrestling the Ethics of Streaming

I am a musician and writer. I don’t make a living off of my content, but many of my friends and customers do. With this in mind, I have always purchased the music and media I consumed (okay, there was that brief period before Battlestar Galactica was airing on Canadian television where I might┬áhave experimented with torrents…).

With my precious music, even as my friends were listening to everything under the sun for free as they tapped services like Napster and Limewire, I paid for every disc, and then every download, without exception.

With this in mind, as Spotify and Apple Music launched in Canada (and facing incredible temptation), I began to wrestle in earnest with the ethics of streaming. I immersed myself in the arguments, admittedly leaning towards the voice of the artist/content creator. I read as much as I could about the distribution of revenue and the “fractions of pennies” creators were receiving per stream.

And then The Shift hit me…

As it had done and continues to do in so many aspects of life and business, technology had disrupted the music industry in a profound and permanent way, and there would be no turning back. More than the Compact Disc, more than the download, more than digital/satellite radio, streaming had triggered a paradigm shift in media distribution and consumption. No Turning Back.

Lamenting the passing of a revenue model based on the the sale of physical media is pointless- it will be akin to mourning the demise of the internal combustion engine 10 years from now, or arguing against Microsoft’s imminent dominance of the consumer over Apple (am I being provocative?). While the shift was triggered by technology- lightweight data, high bandwidth, always-on and connected mobile devices- its staying power is supported by generational culture.

For most Millennials and Gen-Z’s, “ownership” of physical items is not nearly as important as it is/was for Gen-X and Boomers. In the Experience Economy, ownership really means “ownership of access”- I can get my data, my music, my movies wherever and whenever I want. What is “owned” is the access to the data, not the data itself. Combine that with the power of choice- there is nothing I can’t listen to, the moment I discover it- and the argument is beyond compelling; it becomes a paradigm shift. The Shift. 

Please understand that my deep care for the content creator is stronger than ever, and it is from that deep caring place that I applaud the thousands of artists that have recognized The Shift and are exploring totally new ways to sustain themselves (the return of the live show, merchandise, house concerts, licensing, and more). I also believe there is a role for the governments of advanced economies to play in bringing new levels and types of support to the content creator in this emerging Conceptual Age (thank you, Dan Pink), but this may be the subject of a future post.

Now please excuse me as I check to see what the human curators at Apple Music have picked for me to enjoy this morning…