Access vs. Ownership

The way we listen to music has changed throughout the years. In the beginning music was free and people went to hear it live. If they wanted to listen at home they had to buy the sheet music and play it themselves. Someone then invented the phonograph, then diskettes, then vinyl records and eventually CDs. We have now moved from owning physical items such as CDs through downloading and now we’re streaming. What does this mean? What are the pros and cons with access versus ownership? 

Let’s start from a sentimental point of view. Some people think there’s something special about having a physical CD or Vinyl record in their hands. It can give a sense of ownership, “I bought this record, now it’s mine and nobody can take it away from me”. So can downloading in a way, once you have downloaded a song nobody can take it away from you (unless your hard drive crashes), plus it’s free if you do it illegally. With a downloaded file you might not get quite the same personal connection as you do when buying a physical item though. That could be a reason why so many people have started buying vinyl records again. They want to get that personal connection and support their favourite artist. This is something we don’t do at all when downloading illegally. Streaming however, first of all it can take away the sense of ownership. For some people it doesn’t though, you could feel a as if you own your playlists. Which in a way you do, but you’ve only bought access to a platform, such as Spotify, and then you can access as much music as we want to. But if a song (*cough* Taylor Swift *cough*) gets removed from the platform it also gets removed from your playlists. If Spotify were to shut down completely then all of your beloved playlists that you’ve put so much effort and love into will go down with it. Second of all, adding a song to a playlist doesn’t give the feeling of supporting an artist in the same way as buying a record or CD does. We don’t give the artist any money directly, we pay for Spotify who then gives the artist a very small amount of money per stream. That leads on well to my next point:

Revenue. What does the different methods mean to the companies and people involved revenue wise? Let’s start with the obvious one, downloading torrent files. When people download songs illegally the record label, artist and publisher doesn’t see a penny. Let’s compare CDs/vinyls and streaming next. The main difference in revenue lays in how many times we listen to the album. Streaming benefits the hits that we listen to over and over again while buying CDs benefits the novelty albums that we maybe only listen to a few times. If you only listen to a song once on Spotify, it gives the artist close to nothing. If you only listen to a CD once it doesn’t matter to the artist because you still paid for it. If you listen to a song on Spotify for every day, every minute of your whole life, the artist will get loads of money from your streams. If you do the same with a CD though, it doesn’t matter to the artist because you’ve still only paid those £10 when you purchased the CD. A lot of people do both though. They use Spotify or similar to listen to music on the go, but they still buy CDs or vinyl records. The reason why people have started buying vinyl records again varies. Some people do it out of nostalgia, they used to listen to vinyl records when they were young. Others buy them because it’s fashionable and trendy, to fit in, be cool or take pictures and post on social medias. Others might buy them because they want to support their favourite artist a little extra, that’s why artists often sell CDs at shows.

So to summarise: Don’t download songs if you want to support everyone involved, it’s illegal for a reason. Buy physical copies of your favourite albums if you want to support the artists a little extra. If streaming or physical sales are the best depends on how many plays the songs get. I would say that streaming is more fair though. You get more money the more times people listen to your songs. If people don’t listen, you don’t get any money. I’ll finish it off with a list of pros and cons.


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