From streaming to “spawn” – pop music in the digital age

Those were the days when a song like “Hotel California” (1976) could become a number one hit by the Eagles with their good 100-second guitar intro. Today, musicians have to rush into the house much more quickly with the refrain door to gain quick attention on the streaming playlists.

Otherwise there is no money.

Pop: A cosmos of its own in constant change

Pop music – that has always been a cosmos of its own in constant change.
But what influence does the progressive digitization have on it? Not only how we hear songs – also the way of producing them changes.

The music industry seems to have jumped from the bone death again – thanks to the paid audio streaming, which had already 2018 in Germany and around the world already about 47 percent market share of music consumption. Streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music and Deezer deliver an unimaginable amount of music in just a few clicks.

The possession of sound carriers – the famous “haptic element” – or a right to dispose of downloads is for almost half of the customers in Germany no longer important, a recent survey by the University of Hamburg. Although formats such as vinyl or even music cassette are experiencing a small renaissance, providers of digital services are now dominant in the market. And that worries some.


The Federal Association of the Music Industry (BVMI) sees platforms such as Spotify as partners – albeit “special partners because they are much more deeply involved than before in the distribution of music.
Of course, this sometimes makes for a more exciting relationship, “says head of the association Florian Drücke in an interview with the German Press Agency in Berlin: Last year, the total revenue of the global music industry amounted to 19.1 billion US dollars (more than 17 billion euros).

The market share of CD and vinyl is currently only 25 percent. The Digital Media Association (DiMA) concludes in its report in 2018: “Streaming has saved the music industry.” According to DiMA report, more than half of consumers say
meanwhile: Playlists have replaced the album in their listening habits. The changes are not just economic.

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The internationalization of music

The wealth of offers and easy access lead – experts
my: fortunately – also to a more global picture of music. “We have been experiencing internationalization in hip-hop for some time now, or much more in electronic music.
Their fans can now find examples from completely different regions of the world on the Internet, “says Prof. Udo Dahmen, artistic director of the renowned Pop Academy Baden-Württemberg.” Previously only local expressions such as West African and Balkan music, Korean or Japanese pop and Latin traditional styles now come up with much more interest. ”

Economic factors nevertheless play a major role when it comes to the form of pop music consumed today. Through data analysis, you can see exactly what works and what does not work for the listener – accurate to the second and aligned with what is happening in the piece. Accordingly, music can be produced on the consumption behavior of the listener.

“This is already a relevant topic when writing a song,” says music producer and graduate engineer Tim Tautorat from Berlin, who has already worked with Pharrell Williams, Herbert Grönemeyer, Faber or Annenmaykantereit, in a dpa interview. “There’s the entire block that used to be” radio-pop. “That’s exactly what was done today for playlists, and music was written and produced to fit in with the radio.”

Especially for large parts of the very successful German rap music this procedure is currently exemplary. “This is music that is attributed to playlists, in tempo, in song length, in the length of the intro, for example saying that within the first 20 seconds that and that must have happened, but also in the key or in the selection of the instruments. ”

The rule is: A song must go straight to the ear, so it is not weggeclickt, but longer streamed. So it takes 31 seconds to stay with a track on Spotify, so that at all money flows to the artist – it’s only tenths of a cent amounts. “In fact, mainstream tracks have to develop accordingly,” Prof. Dahmen confirms dpa-Interview. “We also tell our people at the academy and teach them the tools of the trade.”

That songs in the streaming age are not only more direct, but also shorter overall, Dan has head for the magazine Quartz analyzed. The US data journalist also attributes this to the economics of streaming providers. So he examined the songs of successful hip-hop artists like Drake or Kendrick Lamar – and came to the conclusion that this change was even to determine within their own discography.

What is to be suspected of the fact that streaming providers sometimes create “fake artists” and produce songs tailored to playlists? Allegedly as a gap filler, in order to later pay less royalties. Producer Tautorat says: “They do too.
The songs are sometimes even created automatically. But that does not happen in the pop context, but rather on ambient and meditation playlists. ”

Michael Krause, Managing Director of Spotify Central Europe, recently told Musikexpress magazine that the production of its own music streaming service is “not planned”. He advocates, however, playlists with “functional music curated by our editors” – about falling asleep. It will be interesting to see how offensively Spotify & Co. will influence the listening habits of their customers in the future.

Create music with artificial intelligence

But the option of producing music with automated processes or Artificial Intelligence (AI) can also lead to very exciting new sound creations. For example, Berlin-based US artist Holly Herndon used her KI “baby” called “Spawn” on the new album “Proto” (2019). Together with husband Mathew Dryhurst Herndon had developed the program. “‘Spawn’ was trained with my voice,” she said on Deutschlandfunk. The musician did not simply use “Spawn” as an instrument to add a sound element to her electronic music. In pieces like “Godmother”, the KI voice emerges as an independent ensemble member.

All in all, the digital transformation for the music industry, as well as many pop consumers, appears positive. The slump in CD and download sales was offset by better-functioning payment systems. Of these, however, especially young, still little-known musicians can barely live. “In fact, income from streaming is marginal compared to earlier with physical sound carriers,” says Prof. Dahmen. “The models for artists to earn money have changed a lot, including more live performances.”

But cat jamming is only “among the generation that has earned good money in pre-streaming times.” Younger musicians arranged themselves – for example, with the founding of their own record company, such as the Popakademie in Mannheim trained, now very successful pop singer Alice Merton, emphasizes Dahmen. Is streaming pop enjoyment more eco-friendly – given the soon-accumulated mountains of compact discs with plastic patches? Cheers may come too soon. A recent study by the Universities of Glasgow and Oslo states that music consumption today leaves a greater environmental footprint than ever before. At the heyday of the CD in 2000, the music industry in the US produced much less carbon dioxide equivalent of plastic than in 2016 through permanent data storage and transmission.

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