OPINION - Why we might soon be in for a music streaming shake-up

Streaming sites have helped revenues rebound for the music industry since the mid 2010s (Lauren Hurley/PA) (PA Archive)
Streaming sites have helped revenues rebound for the music industry since the mid 2010s (Lauren Hurley/PA) (PA Archive)

After spending years tirelessly telling friends it’s okay to have a Spotify account, everything might be about to change in music streaming anyway. In the next couple of years, consuming music could be in for another shake-up.

Firstly, TikTok is rumoured to be planning to launch its own streaming service. The explosive growth of the short-form video platform is well-documented, and anyone who’s walked along a train carriage will have seen its surge in popularity. It’s like a truly democratised version of TV. If TikTok can bring anything like that level of success to a streaming platform, we might soon see a major shift for the first time since Spotify appeared in 2008.

That’s partly because it would look completely different to the Apple/Spotify interface we’ve become accustomed to. Imagine flicking up and down through a vertical feed but seeing the visuals for endless songs instead of someone’s park bench ‘fitness journey.’ This could well make song – rather than album – based consumption even more normal, and the ramifications of that are huge for music culture.

And then there’s the matter I’ve written about here previously: labels and streaming services pulling in different directions. New tech like Spotify’s AI DJ lean into the, well, ‘lean back’ consumption model, where the listener lets the service choose the music. Labels, on the other hand, want the deliberate, on demand engagement with their artists that builds real fan bases and audiences. Meanwhile, YouTube is also offering users a new ‘radio’ service that allows them more autonomy over how songs are selected. This would appear to mean that the streaming services see new-improved, lean back listening as the future.

Spotify has suggested that the AI DJ adds context, and might help to reduce the skip rates incurred by the unfamiliar. I think there might be something in that. The new model isn’t for everyone. Smaller, usually indie labels often prioritise another platform, Bandcamp, which offers a better margin for artists, while the dance label WUGD has just announced a joint venture with the resurgent Soundcloud.

Last but not least, the return of a dark menace: the deceptively anodyne move of ‘windowing’ of music. A decade back, this was a very hot topic. If you gave Apple your music a week or so early, you might get more coverage – but you got a slap on the wrist from Spotify, too. Thankfully, the paradigm became parity – soon everyone got a new release all at once, and we all breathed a sigh of relief. Until Snoop Dogg and the Death Row Records re-launch, that is.

Snoop has showcased the return of the gangsta rap imprint’s music on TikTok. This could be another sign of seismic change to come. In a few years, might one service have Universal’s top artists, another all the indie stuff, and another all the rain sounds and relaxation playlists? If so, we listeners will be looking at multiple subscriptions, a la TV. In that scenario, artists might end up with better pay-outs, but consumers will be paying more. Enjoy the devil you know while you can.