I typically start a day by streaming music from a playlist I’ve made on Spotify, a recognizable ritual for a lot of people. The Sweden-hailed streaming platform has now become the mainstream medium to listen to your favorite artists, amassing as many as 433 million users worldwide. But a friend of mine reminds me that there is another way to enjoy music. A way that we already know, actually.
“I listen to music every day, but it’s just the songs on my iTunes that I bought,” said Poppy. Growing up, singing has always been their main interest. And as a freelance content creator, they quite routinely post cover versions of songs to their YouTube and SoundCloud pages.
“When I create my own remix, I keep thinking of ways to improve it; what will make it sound better?” They said, sharing their process of making covers. “This decision-making really takes a lot of time,” continued Poppy, who also edits their own videos, creates thumbnails, and (for some covers) even plays the instruments themself on top of producing the audio.
“And then imagine, say, G-Dragon, him being the producer, singer, and songwriter of his works,” they later continued, speaking of one of their favorite K-Pop artists. “I think just streaming is not enough to appreciate the music he put out.” Instead, Poppy believes that by buying, the reward that the artists receive, both appreciation and financial-wise, is much more significant.
In the K-Pop world, what Poppy does is common practice, as agencies cultivate the culture that makes buying albums an essential part of a fan experience. I, myself, purchase albums from the girl group LOONA due to this reason, despite using Spotify as the main platform where I listen to music.
But Poppy goes the extra mile—they’re not even subscribed to any streaming services. That means also buying albums from artists they barely know anything about. “The key criteria for me to buy music is just that I like it, and I know I’d want to listen to it again,” they told me. Poppy shared an instance where they would come across an interesting tune, and they would search for it first on YouTube, so they could decide whether they wanted to add the music to their iTunes library. A band Poppy thought of is DVSN, whose releases they would now regularly check out without ever knowing what the people behind the band are like.
By consuming music this way, I think there is another layer of connection between Poppy, as the audience, and the artists of their choosing. To me, the extra steps they take for their music collection signify an attempt to create meaning in the consumption of art. People like Poppy know they are ‘stuck’ with the song once they buy it, so they want to make sure it is the kind of music they really like to hear. And for the artists to have their art ‘chosen’ in this way, perhaps must have felt beyond transactional.
Poppy does not wish to undermine streaming, though. They realize that streaming is also a form of appreciation. And it should be considered that streaming offers artists a different kind of reward. Spotify, for example, has playlists that feature top songs based on a period of time or region. When a song is featured in Spotify’s Today’s Top Hits, it would even give additional streams to the song around 20 million more (Aguiar and Waldfogel, 2018), almost warranting greater visibility to the artists in the industry.
But this streaming culture also creates a phenomenon where labels and even artists themselves attempt to make a ‘viral moment’ for their works. The various TikTok content published by the artists is one instance. Popularity is significant for artists to make money, and this is reflected in how many times their songs have been streamed, including their airplay.
One of the outcomes is that fans are finding ways to popularize the artists they love that corroborate this culture; by making a personal playlist that focuses on streaming a particular song, for example. The more a song is streamed, the bigger its chance to enter popular playlists in a streaming service, and the more likely it trends. This does not work every time, however. It’s hard to determine what would make a song trend. But resources definitely play a part. Artists that already established a fanbase or signed under a major label would sometimes get the upper hand. Labels can also provide a team specializing in social media that handles an artist’s promotion. These resources, unfortunately, not everyone can afford.
At the same time, streaming services remain the most accessible platform for most music listeners today. I note that Poppy owns Apple devices at their disposal that let them utilize iTunes to the maximum and buy their desired albums, an ease of access not shared by Windows or Android users.
Ultimately, what Poppy does is more of a reminder to focus on the act of appreciation for the music we listen to, instead of just passively consuming it. Perhaps artists would be more encouraged to make arts that speak for themselves, not distracted by the need to make them go trending. After all, the existing industry model became existing only when the behavior of its consumers assists its longevity.