I wanted to quit streaming. I was wrong. Here's why

We can’t afford to skip this opportunity to be heard

I wanted to quit streaming. I was wrong. Here's why
Jonny Tobin. Photo: Alex Townsend

It's a cliché by now: artists release statements, or muse on comment sections, that they want to abandon releasing music on all digital platforms.

That's understandable: releasing music on streaming platforms can feel like a losing game. Radio play – and satellite radio in particular – pays better, with artists able to earn the dollar equivalent of thousands of streams in just a few dozen spins.

So the well-worn debate about the viability of streaming feels settled: the streaming services low-ball the artists, and they've brought about the downfall of the music industry - we should drop them immediately!

Worse still, if you keep your music on a streaming platform, you’re part of the problem; you’re hurting not just all independent artists, but also yourself.

Just remove all your music from being available for streaming: problem solved.

At least, that’s the way I used to think.

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My context

I am an independent artist. I’ve released one full album with a label (Weekends, released on Wicked Wax Records), a collaborative multi-artist single with a label ("On the Fly", released on Radio Juicy), and a single/B-side with a label ("Sunrise"/"Super Genesis", released on Austin Boogie Crew Records).

Outside of these label releases, I’ve released 3 other solo albums to date independently without label support or management, and I mostly did my own self-promotion for each release. I also don’t know anyone on the inside of any music streaming company.

My most recent album, Together, has received over 1.5 million streams across all platforms to date.

It’s a big mistake as an independent artist to take your music off of streaming platforms, or limit the platforms you release on.

And with that context out of the way, here’s why.

As independent artists

We can’t afford the luxury of skipping an opportunity to be heard.

Yes, famous artists have a chance to make waves by boycotting a platform or removing music from it. Beyoncé made this choice when she limited certain releases to Tidal; Taylor Swift removed her music from Spotify entirely in 2014, though it came back.

For the rest of us, though, it can only hurt the potential for people to access your music. We’ve been taught that getting paid in exposure is bad, which is a concept I agree with generally.

But rather than viewing streaming as getting paid in exposure, flipping the concept around it would be more beneficial. Consider it free advertising; it can be the digital equivalent of plastering your poster all over town or having an ad on a billboard.

We should view these streaming platforms not just as revenue generators, but also as a means to find fans and long-term listeners.

We can’t impose the same monetary expectations on streaming as we do on radio, which involves a lot more steps: bureaucracy, a level of notoriety needed in order to get played, and gatekeeping, as hearing your song on the radio revolves around curation and the privilege of who you know.

We will always value ourselves and our art. But...

There is virtually no point, as a small to medium-sized artist, in saying, "I will never release my music on this platform," or, "I’m hereby removing all my music from that service."

Skipping a streaming platform (or forgoing all of them entirely) could cost you thousands of potential fans. Are you getting thousands more listeners elsewhere already? If the answer is no, then it might be good to reconsider doing that.

Yes, the paltry amounts that streaming pays should increase. But with streaming, a lot more power is in the hands of the people. Want to create beats in your bedroom, record vocals in your insulated storage closet, and release it worldwide? Go ahead - it’s never been easier or cheaper to do that. You can simply sign up for a distribution service and go.

It's entirely possible to rack up thousands (or millions) of plays on streaming platforms simply through submitting to curated editorial playlists within those platforms - and it costs absolutely nothing to do this. There are hundreds of official playlists at this point, and a mind-numbing number of niches that are available for music to be slotted into.

I’m not here to justify shady business practices of corporations which most definitely need to change. Nor am I saying, "If you can’t beat 'em, join 'em," and calling for artists to just be complacent when it comes to their own value.

I’m simply asking the following: In a time when we face some of our most intense struggles ever, don't intentionally make your music harder to find.