Imagine that you are the host of a party in 1985. You grab your giant box of vinyl records and drop it next to your record player and begin spinning, acting as your own DJ. Guests come by the standard 8-foot banquet table that you have assembled and flip through the cardboard folders looking for their favorite artists. Unfortunately, you have Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall album but not U2’s The Unforgettable Fire. Fast forward to cassette tapes, and though the table gets smaller and the box lighter, you still run out of listening options.
My how things change. Today we have subscription-based music services. For $9.99 per month, subscribers can listen to their choice of millions of songs on a mobile app, online, on a home listening device, mp3, iPhone or iTouch. I spoke with Brendan Benzing, Rhapsody’s chief product officer, about how subscription-based services benefit music fans and artists.
Benzing describes subscription-based services as a “powerful music experience” and likens it to being your on DJ. Instead of downloading each song, thereby limiting a listener’s musical choice by affordability and storage space, a listener has, in the case of Rhapsody, 10.5 million songs to experience. The rationale is this: consumer tastes can be fickle and music can be enjoyed one moment in time and discarded the next. Benzing believes that an access-based model is the preferred choice because the overall experience for listeners is heightened by their ability to control the experience. Listeners can explore a wider variety of music, when and where they want.
Today, there are only about two million people who use subscription-based services. While digital downloads account of the great majority of digital revenue, Rhapsody and its competitors are expecting that as the cost of data services in the mobile market continues to decrease, and subscription services become accessible on more platforms and devices (Rhapsody is already available on more than 30), the number of subscribers will continue to increase. Benzing says that once subscribership achieves a mass-market level (I won’t hold him to an exact number), its payouts will make an even greater impact on labels and independent artists alike.
I asked Benzing how a subscription-based business impacts smaller artists. He responded that subscription-based services are good for artist discovery because listeners are not limited by their wallets. For a flat fee, listeners can discover new artists and categories of music. Rhapsody has deals with labels, and independent artists can be included in Rhapsody’s catalog through companies like CD Baby, tunecore, and The Orchard.
Music subscription service is certainly a business to watch. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing how this market develops (will Apple enter?) and how artists will be both discovered and compensated in it.
- Shai Littlejohn
Shai Littlejohn is an attorney in the music industry, singer-songwriter and Professional Music major at Berklee. She is currently interning with the Future of Music Coaliton, an artist’s rights lobby and advocacy group in Washington DC. Though late November, Shai will work as an integral member of the coalition team in developing, organizing and promoting both the Future of Music Policy Summit as well as the Dear New Orleans Benefit Rock Show.
Follow Shai on Twitter for continuing tips and updates on music law and policy at https://twitter.com/ShaiMusic.