Is the reality of a piracy-free music industry closer then we think?
There has been a lot of conversation about Soundcloud lately. Most of it has been negative, well, at least from the perspective of a music blogger. Publications (like this one) have been kicked off Soundcloud for violating copyright rules. Even some of our favorite artists like Kaskade have spoken out against some of the silly rules Soundcloud is choosing to enforce. We can all agree Soundcloud isn't perfect, but neither are we. That's not the point. How people are using Soundcloud, and why, is part of a much larger conversation about the way we interact with music via the internet, and thus, the future of the music industry as a whole.
But I'm trying to shift my focus beyond the obvious pitfalls of Soundcloud as a platform and rather, focus on the larger trends that could be changing the way we choose to consume music and media in the future.
OTB's personal problem...
How did this all start? Well...OTB got kicked off Soundcloud again. Again you say? Yes, for the second time! It was super frustrating as the co-owner of the site, from both a financial and emotional standpoint. The first time we got kicked off we'd built up a decent 3k person following, and in a matter of seconds, it was all gone. I felt great about being able to bounce back in a matter of weeks, rebuilding our following, only to get the boot yet again.There was really nothing I could do except chuckle and learn the (annoying) lesson that we have to take Soundcloud's terms and conditions 100% seriously. Do yourself a favor and learn from my mistake. As a brand, we've decided that we'll probably limit our involvement with Soundcloud to reposting and premiering tracks (when we've gotten the okay from artists management). As I mentioned in my 4k word rant about Soundcloud and the future of the music industry (Copyright Infringement and Greedy Labels Get Us Kicked Off Soundcloud), Only The Beat is doing everything necessary to avoid this issue again by decreasing our dependence on other platforms. Instead, we're creating the ability to host our own content internally so we can provide YOU with sounds we'd otherwise be unable to share. I'm beating around the bush a bit, but only because I don't like to comment on things that aren't finished yet. The short story: Stay tuned and I promise you'll be impressed with the technology we roll out in the next few months.
What are you searching for?
As the reality of being kicked off Soundcloud sunk in for the second time, I began thinking about the good ol' days, before Soundcloud, before giving away pirated tracks on a music blog was officially frowned upon. I thought about a few of the cool articles I've seen lately that use data from 3rd party services like Shazam. Nothing as cool here, Google Trends is a bit more standard when it comes to 3rd party tools, but I wondered, how much are people really searching for pirated music these days?
What does that look like visually?
How does it compare with 2004?
What does that graph look like?
(Remember, Facebook didn't even exist until February of 2004...We've come a long way)
Because I may FEEL like the industry is trending in one direction...I have many feelings, such as my disdain for Electro House, but I'm not always right, and the data always tells the real story. Something I want to make very clear: Only The Beat is OBSESSED with the quality of our content. From formatting to fact checking (especially fact checking!). We double, triple, sometimes quadruple-check facts to ensure you can trust what you're reading is the truth, because honestly, there are a lot of people who don't. And we refuse to be seen as one of those sites.
What is Google Trends? And what does it allow us to do?
Therefore, in order to dig deeper into the idea of a piracy-free music industry and paint a realistic picture of the trends, in regards to search, I started running simple queries to paint stunning portraits of what people are actually looking for. Before we continue, I thought it would be helpful to include this image that explains what Google Trends is: Now that you know what Google Trends is, and how it works, let's start look at some data!
Are people still just adding Zippy to the end of everything?
When I first started listening to Trance, I would just google the title of a cool new track I found in a mix and add the words "zippy" to the end of it. That search would pretty much do the trick, bringing me to zippshare.com where I had the 'option' to illegally download the track.
So naturally, I started my journey by looking at a Google Trends graph of the volume of search queries for the terms 'Soundcloud' and 'Mixcloud' (platforms that are widely used and accepted in the EDM industry) and compared them with a few of the popular services that sometimes facilitate piracy, like 'Zippyshare' and 'hulkshare':
There are a few explanations for the graph above. One train of thought leads me to believe that the results you see on this graph, a massive decrease in the number of searches for pirated music hosts, can be attributed to the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act...you know what I'm talking about...These things at the bottom of your searches for downloadable tracks: Hate those things...Anyways... The graph above also confirms something positive for Soundcloud: They were able enter a market, serve a purpose, and solve a problem. When stealing music got harder, Soundcloud said "Look over here! We can bring you music anytime, any place, and it's going to be free. Not that fake free like Pandora or Spotify, you can listen for hours and discover whatever you want without having to listen to any stupid ads." Boom. I was in. You were too! They overcame the barriers that hinder users from easily accessing pirated content through Google's search functions (because remember, Google is MUCH more than just search these days). This got me thinking...okay...so if people are searching less for zippyshare, and more for Soundcloud...where does Soundcloud compare to Google's other massive revenue generator: Youtube. The root question I'm trying to answer is: Where are people going to listen to music online?
The terms that people are searching for can give us so much insight into the industry and the potential trends that are emerging, the goal in mind is of course, always being one step ahead :P So I took a look at the same search but changed one variable, I switched out mixcloud (which proved itself to be out of the conversation due to lack of search volume) with "Youtube." As you can imagine, all of the lines on the graph where at the very bottom of the graph while "Youtube" soared above the rest at the very top...but look what happened when I changed "Youtube" to "Youtube Music"
I was shocked to see such a dramatic decline in the volume of searches for music on youtube. Yet, the timing does seem to make sense because it correlates with Youtube's introduction of advertising, and at the same time, the introduction and adoption of Soundcloud over 2007-14. All in all, I had a few conclusions:
1) Music lovers are opting for Soundcloud over Youtube when it comes to streaming. (What does this mean for the future of Youtube as a platform?)2) People will leave a trusted source in search of an ad free platform. (Subscription models are successful)3) Successful platforms occur when users and content creators have an equal chance to be heard.
Does this mean people have kicked the piracy habit for good? Well not exactly...I ran another search and included "Torrents" this time. Take this graph with a grain of salt, there are many different types of torrents, including articles written about the legality of torrents that would also show up in a simply Google search. Still, the results don't lie:
And if it's a broader stroke of the music industry you're looking for, take a look at this graph that consists of more general search terms:
I'd say that's good news for the industry.
Streaming services explode in 2012-13
Don't take my word for it? Niesen's 2013 US Music Industry Year-End Review is chalked full of evidence about this massive shift over to streaming. Not only are music sales down 6%, but get ready for this: Streaming grew by 32% since 2012. That's 118 billion (with a B) more 'streams' than the year before. The report also states that 68% of Americans reported streaming in the last year, and these trends should continue to grow in 2014. Others have written on this topics before as well. Alex Knapp of Forbes published a brief article in early February 2013 with some startling findings based of a study conducted by the NPD Group:
1) The number of music files being illegally downloaded was 26% less in 2012 than in 2011.2) 40% of those people surveyed said they did not illegally download music the following year3) 50% of those people cited streaming music and it's on the go availability as their reason for stopping.4) 20% of users reported that they’d stopped illegally downloading music because their favorite site was either shut down or corrupt.
The moral of his story can be summed as: Why bother if you have on-demand access?
Well how 'bout it guys? What do you think? Stream or download?
So which streaming services are people using?
I ran a few different reports in my attempt to discover the answer to this questions.
Traditional Streaming services - I selected these search terms by using the same streaming services that Nielsen used in their report.
EDM Friendly Streaming Services - These terms were selected because they are trusted 3rd party services that have carved out their place in the dance music industry.
As you can see from the graphs, both Soundcloud and Spotify are dominating their respective competition.
Will the music industry ever be free from piracy?
Although you and I are able to use cool tools like Google trends to interpret data and make bold predications, I don't have a clear answer to the questions posed above. If you demanded one from me, I'd simply say never. When have humans stopped stealing anything? There will always be something alluring about getting to take and covet something you're not supposed to have.
As reoccurring as this massage may be in 2014, technology will have the final say in this debate. Google trends isn't able to give me the inside line on the next big tech start-up and I certainly don't know when we'll be making the switch from hardware to organic carbon nanotubes implanted in our brains...But there will most definitely come a time when our access to the internet and it's limitless capacity for knowledge and information will allow us to access the music we love at anytime and in any place on this planet.
That being said, my research leads me to believe that as technology advances, the normal music listener will continue to trend away from pirating music in exchange for free streaming services and internet radio. It's a massive paradigm shift for users, and one that will be good for the music industry. Capitalism and competition will breed better and better products while users will help guide the industry by choosing which platforms to adopt.
I'm not sure how musicians or labels are going to sell what they've made in the future, that's a question the industry will have to uncover through trial and error; but I know one thing: You have the power to play an instrumental role in shaping that future.
Thousands are listening, what do you have to say?
Let me know in the comments.