Will stiff competition between streaming music services and direct to fan interaction kill the practice of streaming music prior to release? Some think so, but music marketer Wes Davenport has a very different opinion.
The Verge recently published a piece called “Advance streaming has changed the music industry, but it won’t last forever.” Writer Jamieson Cox handily lays out the promotional history of advance streams, with quotes from NPR Music’s Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton. Cox moves on to point out how streaming services are fighting for exclusives, creating a turf war that could bleed into advance streams from NPR Music, The Fader, and others.
However, there is a case against the erosion of media outlet advance listens. In the Verge piece, co-founder of the label Secretly Group Phil Waldorf says, “The net result of the album stream is less about the listening experience, and more about having an event a week or two prior to the release of the album that gives you another reason to bang the drum, and to give people something to share and talk about.” Taking away an advance stream is one less drumbeat in any artist’s release strategy.
Going direct-to-fan with an advance stream erases the possibility of reaching an audience beyond the dedicated fanbase. Artists like Dr. Dre and Daft Punk are going to get press for anything they do. For mid-tier artists, advance stream traffic at NPR Music, The Guardian, or Consequence of Sound correlates with ticket sales, social media follows, email list growth, and other areas.
Besides the status-quo prevailing or streaming services eliminating advance streams, there are alternatives: follow-gating and secret playlists.
A follow-gating strategy would require a follow to access advance streams. With this method, the media outlet could build influence directly on streaming platforms. Additionally, the streaming platforms could allow links to editorial content to drive traffic to the media outlet’s site. However, I doubt it would make up for the loss in website traffic the current advance stream system offers.
Alternatively, media outlets could adopt secret Spotify / Radio / Apple Music playlists where they can embed releases without listeners having wider access on the streaming platforms. In short, they could copy SoundCloud’s private playlist feature. When the release goes live, the listen counts are already there, creating momentum with a perception of popularity. This method is already available in some capacity. Users are able to embed secret Spotify playlists, but listeners are required to download the streaming app. If this were tweaked, it would be a less disruptive path.
All of these scenarios put the interests of media outlets, streaming services, and artist interests at odds. Follow-gating benefits the streaming platforms more, while not requiring an app to play secret playlists hurts these platforms. Taking away an advance listen may affect a press campaign, but boost streaming royalties. Some parts of the industry feel streaming services are bringing an end to the wild west of music consumption. I believe it’s just begun.