Swimming Upstream

Image by Patricia Anne

Since releasing my first digital album back in 2002, technology has played a crucial role in the distribution of the music I create. At that time, CDs were still the way folks listened to music but sales were definitely well in decline. Napster had scared the crap out of the music industry and was shut down for good. Mp3s were all the rage and there were these things called iPods that were changing the way people consumed their favorite songs and albums.

Thanks to archive.org and Creative Commons, I was able to distribute my music free of charge to my listeners without fear of the music being used for commercial purposes. I’d release a concept album that could be downloaded and enjoyed around the world. At the time, this was a novel idea for an independent artist.

MySpace came along a few years later and allowed a platform for album release announcements and other bits of information that helped in increasing downloads. I would eagerly check the statistics each day and be amazed that people were downloading this music that I had created in my bedroom.

Then along came Facebook which didn’t have quite the music friendly interface, but did eventually lead to more promotional opportunities than I could have ever imaged. Later Bandcamp entered the scene allowing a format that was more user friendly and offering better statistical information.

But a change is underway.

In the last few months, I’ve come to realize a major shift has happened in not only the music landscape, but also the social media landscape. With Facebook’s new algorithms, friends are only able to see things that have a significant number of likes. This has led to a mass exodus away from Facebook. It was time to once again change strategies. I’ve set up accounts on TwitterTumblrPintrest, and Instagram. While it is great to know that everything I post will be seen on these other services, I do miss the interface of Facebook.

There has also been a major shift away from downloads to streaming music. With services like Spotify, no longer is it about downloading an album. To be heard on a streaming service you have to participate in a digital distribution deal which can be costly for artists. But if you aren’t streaming with one of the big players, you’re losing potential listeners. Add to that, artists are seeing their royalties from these providers get smaller and smaller.

On the user side of things, Cloud technologies have moved people away from downloading a bunch of files they would have to keep on their computer. I can see this trend in the recent decline in downloads and uptick in streaming plays of my own music. So the challenge is how to keep listeners engaged with a full album of songs in a streaming hit single-oriented world. Perhaps releasing albums one song at a time is the way to go? Offering something extra special for downloading the album?  Or perhaps it is about a more interactive creation experience?

I’m sure once I find the answer to these questions, it’ll be time to shift gears again. Such is this business of music.