The music and technology industries have had a long and turbulent history of fighting amongst themselves. These fights on the surface may seem more civilised than the average Gangs of New York street fight, with courtrooms, patents, and contracts replacing cudgels, hatchets and downtown, but this apparent level of sophistication is no less bloody. And now to make matters even more toxic the rival gangs of both these industries are no longer just fighting amongst their own, but also with the factions of another industry. In fact the fighting has become so intense that the traditional lines of engagement have had to be redrawn so often that its hard to know where the true balance of power now lies between the two rival industries. Is it with the technology companies; Google, Apple, Spotify or is with the majors; Universal, Sony, Warner?

YouTube vs Spotify

This week it was announced that both Apple Music and Spotify have seen an exponential growth in their subscription services since the beginning of 2016, with 11 million and 30 million subscribers respectively. The third major technology player in this mix is Google, however it is unclear how many subscribers Google Play actually has, which suggests it’s lagging some way behind. But like Apple with the iPod, Google does have an ace up its sleeve in the form of YouTube. According to YouTube’s own statistics page it has over a billion unique users worldwide, with over 800 million of these visiting YouTube each month. In a bid to tap this huge resource YouTube launched its own ad free subscription service YouTube Red in 2015 and whilst its only currently available in the US, the smart money says that once rolled out worldwide YouTube Red will become a very real threat to both Apple and Spotify. For example if only 5% sign up to the subscription service, that’s still 50 million subscribers. However you could argue that this figure of 50 million is not representative in terms of music consumption, as YouTube is home to many other forms of visual entertainment. But we know from our ‘Creating A YouTube Profile‘ post, that YouTube’s most significant Partner is the music video service ‘Vevo’. Vevo receives the greatest number of unique plays of any YouTube channel, with 50 million unique views each year. And with a little more digging we discovered that of the Top 30 most watched videos on YouTube, as of 2015, only one is not a music video. With this in mind YouTube is a very real threat to its key rivals Apple & Spotify, a threat Google evidently intends to make good on with its recent acquisition of Bandpage, a service that allows artists to sell direct to fans. As yet it’s not clear how this service will be integrated within the YouTube network, but it is undeniably a clear statement of intent. But what of the traditional music majors, where are they while these border disputes intensify?

Well like any truly successfully oligarchy the majors, unlike the collapse of the Roman Empire, have effectively adapted to their changing cultural landscape. Although they were initially slow to the threat of online music when Napster launched in 1999 they have since swung their greatest weapon to considerable affect, their back catalogue of licensed music, and consequently are now fully alert to any potential shift or innovation in musical consumption. You only have to look at the limited success Tidal has had trying to muscle in on the majors territory to know who has the higher ground. The technology companies may appear to be leading the charge in the scramble for territory, but are they actually just the infantry carrying out orders whilst the Major’s, away from the frontline, control the rules and lines of engagement?

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Jamie XX – Dance music is important to me, it makes me happy
Format Wars – The Future of Music
16.4 Billion Streams on Spotify – Adele 25