One of the major stories in the music business in recent weeks are the enormous, insane streaming numbers for Billie Eilish’s debut full-length album, ‘When We All Fall Asleep’. On the first day- THE FIRST DAY- the record received almost 56 MILLION Spotify streams. It is hard to even take in how many people that is, and how much of a MOMENT those numbers mean for an artist and a cultural touchstone. Articles were written pointing to this success as an example of why it is so crucial for artists to receive fair royalty rates on these sort of platforms; it also highlighted how global music sales are up, with nearly half of the sales coming from streaming.
How does this tie in to Record Store Day 2019, which is THIS SATURDAY APRIL 13? It shows a couple things that are crucial if we want to continue to have artists that have not a single, not one or two LPs, but a life-long career making music. First of all, the biggest danger we are in as a culture is taking art for free, or virtually free. Long gone are the days when the only way you could hear a song were by hunting down the physical format of it, or calling a radio station repeatedly, praying that they would take your request (even typing these two things makes me realise how antiquated they are).
My friend tells me about a song. Professor Google pops it up on Spotify, YouTube or SoundCloud. I go and listen to it. If I like it, FOR FREE or little cost, I can continue to play it, carry it around with me, listen to it as I am cooking dinner, working out – basically, anywhere, any time.
Now, while this may be great if you are someone like Billie Eilish, who have a multi-billion dollar machine behind you, promoting you, nurturing you, curating you. But how does the artist just starting out get those fans, get those new people – I always call them ‘strangers’ – people YOU DO NOT KNOW who come to your shows or (gasp!) BUY your music or merch! to engage.
That is probably the number one thing that I am asked- how DO I get people to stop, look and listen to me? What Record Store Day reminds us of is the importance that not just MUSIC, but MUSIC CULTURE plays in our lives. While it is fantastic that Billie has had such great success, how many of those streams will turn in to people buying the LP, the download, the merch?
How many people will read up on her likes and dislikes, and engage with the larger ideas and motivations of her music? Will she still have a career in five years, let alone a decade? We lose, break or delete our MP3s; swap or unfollow artists we are streaming. We hold on to the album, the T-shirt, the ticket stub, as a token of a moment in time, as a reflection of a variance of ourselves, in a way that simply is impossible with a digital format.
The other day my husband and I walked into my friends record store- it’s called Shak’s Stax of Wax– SHOUT OUT!- to dig through his new releases. Shak was playing an old Mantronix album that both he and my husband had worshipped when they were kids. They immediately started talking about their mutual love of the band, their memories of it and how special and important the record was. You just do not get that when you are listening, by yourself, to your phone, scrolling through tracks. You don’t look at the tiny pixilated image of an artist on your phone and go, ‘OOOOH! I want to dress like that!’
Culture is more than a song, a single, a stream- it is how we make and take those ideas and apply them across our behaviours and ethos every day. We need to each decide if we want to live in an easily discarded, disposable world, where the very fundamentals of what inspires has no worth; or whether convenience rules all, no matter what the costs.