“Listeners are well-served by streaming platforms, but for artists, they cast the question of compensation in a stark new light. While the value debates that dominated the mp3 moment pitted fans against artists, the emergent streaming era has so far seen the return of corporate exploitation, with a speculative twist: The rich or soon-to-be-rich build innovated products, convince an ailing recording industry to sign over their catalogs, acquiring the bricks-and-mortar of their operations–digitized recordings–for fractions of a penny on the dollar. These operations are mostly funded by venture capital, periodic rounds of investments, or as cogs in vast empires of information, and they can feel overwhelming for fans and artists alike.
As streaming takes center stage for music commerce, questions with long histories must be reframed. In what ways are the non-stop interactions between databases and algorithms shaping our musical tastes? Do streaming platform business models inherently exploit artists when listener choice scales to infinity? Should speculative capitalism be the driving force for large-scale innovations in music technology, and is there a feasible alternative? Are we living in a technological golden age of creative possibility, cross-cultural communication, and sheer abundance, or a surveillance state controlled by privately-held brands promising endless access at the expense of imperceptible control? Answers to these questions are piloting digital music deep into the 21st century, but critically evaluating current technological developments means keeping an eye on the lessons of the past.”