How Has Streaming Impacted The Music Industry?

By Nikash Ganguli

Online streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music have a complex effect on musicians, offering a range of opportunities and difficulties that have completely changed the music business. These platforms have had a big impact on how musicians release music, interact with fans, and make money.


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Recent events surrounding Kanye West’s “VULTURES 2” and his problems with streaming services have led me to take a deeper dive into the pros and cons of streaming and the historical background behind one of the most important changes in the music landscape. 


Pros of Online Streaming for Artists:


Revenue Growth and Industry Recovery: Revenues in the music recording industry have rebounded, largely thanks to streaming. From 2015 to 2019, music revenue grew 13% annually, and streaming accounted for 80% of revenue in 2019. This growth trajectory has benefited major artists and labels, with streaming platforms such as Spotify paying more than $7 billion to music rights holders in 2021, a significant increase over previous years.


Exposure and Audience Building: Streaming platforms offer artists unparalleled access to a global audience. They enable any artist to upload their music and be discovered by listeners worldwide, making it easier for emerging artists to build a fan base without the backing of major labels​​.


Innovative Release Strategies: Artists have used platforms like Spotify to implement innovative album release strategies. Drake’s use of Spotify for a platform-wide takeover during the release of his Scorpion album is an example of how artists can engage with fans in new ways despite mixed reactions from users..


Cons of Online Streaming for Artists:


Financial Disparities: Despite the growth in streaming revenue, many artists voice concerns over unfair compensation. The per-stream payout is often criticized for being too low, with a significant portion of the revenue going to record labels rather than the artists themselves​​. This model has been especially challenging for smaller, independent artists who rely on streaming as a primary income source.


Market Saturation and Playlist Dependency: The ease of uploading music to streaming platforms has led to market saturation, making it harder for artists to stand out. Success on these platforms is increasingly dependent on inclusion in popular playlists, which can be difficult for lesser-known artists to achieve​​.


Impact on Artist-Fan Relationships: The shift towards streaming has affected the traditional artist-fan relationship. The emphasis on digital consumption reduces opportunities for artists to earn from live performances and physical sales, which were traditionally significant revenue sources and ways to build fan loyalty​​. This has also caused the prices of Concerts, CDs, and Vinyls to rise exponentially to where some fans are priced out of them.


Overall, streaming presents the most significant benefits for the consumer and while Artists aren’t getting paid as much as they probably should, their music is much more accessible than when all music was a la carte or only available physically. 



Expanding on the significant shifts within the music industry, particularly regarding the distribution and revenue models through the cases of Kanye West’s “DONDA 2”, Travis Scott’s “ASTROWORLD” vs. Nicki Minaj, and Drake’s streaming success, we can delve deeper into how these artists have navigated and sometimes challenged the evolving digital music landscape.


Kanye West’s “DONDA 2” and the Stem Player

Kanye West’s release of “DONDA 2” exclusively through his Stem Player was a pioneering move that bypassed traditional streaming services entirely. This decision not only underscored his quest for artistic freedom but also highlighted a new potential revenue model for artists. By selling his album as part of a hardware device, West ensured direct profit from both the music and the device itself, challenging the traditional streaming revenue models which often are criticized for their low payout rates to artists. This approach allowed West to retain a larger portion of the revenue, demonstrating a novel method of distributing music that emphasizes artist control over both the artistic and financial aspects of their work. This move was reflective of a broader debate on the fairness of streaming economics for artists, especially those looking to break free from the constraints of platform-dependent monetization strategies.


Travis Scott’s “ASTROWORLD” vs. Nicki Minaj and Merchandise Bundles

The rap beef between Travis Scott and Nicki Minaj, sparked by the release of Scott’s “ASTROWORLD” and its subsequent bundle sales, represents a notable moment in the music industry’s ongoing dialogue about streaming numbers, chart positions, and marketing strategies.

Nicki Minaj took to social media to express her frustration after her album “Queen” debuted at No. 2 behind Travis Scott’s “ASTROWORLD,” which enjoyed its second consecutive week at No. 1. Minaj pointed to Scott’s use of merchandise bundles – packages that included tour tickets, a copy of the album, and “ASTROWORLD” apparel – as a primary reason for the disparity in chart positioning. She argued that these bundles artificially inflated Scott’s streaming numbers, thereby impacting the chart performance of her own album. Minaj’s critique highlighted the broader industry debate on the fairness and authenticity of using merchandise bundles to boost album sales and streaming numbers.


Drake: The Streaming God

Drake’s monumental success on streaming platforms, breaking numerous records for streams, exemplifies the upper echelon of what artists can achieve in the streaming era. As a pivotal figure in the music industry, Drake’s ability to consistently produce hits that dominate streaming charts has not only solidified his status as a global superstar but also showcased the lucrative potential of streaming for artists at the peak of their careers. His strategic releases and collaborations have maximized streaming numbers, illustrating the powerful combination of star power and savvy release strategies in achieving financial and promotional milestones. Drake’s success story is a testament to the transformative impact of streaming services on the music industry, offering a blueprint for success in the digital age while also raising the bar for what is possible in terms of streaming numbers and global reach.



The transformation in the way we consume music, from physical album sales to streaming and the resurgence of vinyl and CDs, is a fascinating journey that reflects broader changes in technology, culture, and consumer behavior. This narrative also intertwines with the rise of platforms like TikTok, reshaping how music gains popularity and influences streaming success.


Historical Background of Album Sales

Before the advent of streaming services, music consumption was dominated by physical sales, including vinyl records, cassettes, and CDs. The success of an album was measured by the volume of these physical sales, tracked by charts like the Billboard 200 in the United States. The introduction of digital downloads in the early 2000s, through platforms like iTunes, began to shift this dynamic, allowing users to purchase individual songs rather than entire albums. This period marked the beginning of a transition from physical to digital formats, which would later pave the way for streaming services.


The Impact of Streaming Services

The emergence of streaming platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music, and Pandora further revolutionized the music industry by offering access to vast libraries of music for a subscription fee or through ad-supported models. This shift significantly impacted album sales, as the convenience and affordability of streaming services led to a decline in physical and digital sales. Streaming also introduced new metrics for measuring the success of music, including stream counts and playlist placements, fundamentally changing how artists release and promote their music.


TikTok’s Influence on Streaming

TikTok has emerged as a powerful platform for music discovery, with a significant impact on streams and charts. The app’s short-form video format allows users to create content set to music, leading to viral trends that can catapult songs around the world. The number of streams for songs hosted on TikTok often exceeds other platforms, showing the program’s impact on the music industry. This phenomenon has led artists and record labels to design releases and promotions with TikTok in mind, recognizing its role in shaping modern music consumption and discovery..


Resurgence of CDs and Vinyl

Despite the dominance of streaming, there has been a notable resurgence in the popularity of vinyl records and, to a lesser extent, CDs in the 2020s. This revival is driven by a desire among fans to own a tangible piece of their favorite music, as well as the aesthetic and nostalgic appeal of vinyl. Record sales have seen significant growth, with vinyl outpacing CDs in revenue for the first time since the 1980s in some markets. This trend reflects a broader interest in physical media as a form of collection and a way to support artists, offering a counterpoint to the ephemeral nature of digital music streaming.



The evolution of the music industry from physical album sales to the dominance of streaming, highlighted by the innovative strategies of artists and the resurgence of vinyl and CD, represents a significant change. Figures like Kanye West, Travis Scott, Nicki Minaj and Drake have navigated this landscape in different ways, using streaming to redefine success while maintaining artistic integrity. The re-emergence of physical formats speaks to fans’ desire for tangible connections to music in a digital age. Meanwhile, TikTok’s rise as a pivotal platform for music discovery underscores the interplay between social media and streaming, influencing trends and chart outcomes. This ongoing shift reflects the industry’s adaptability and the enduring power of music to connect and inspire across different mediums and generations.


Do you guys still buy physical editions of your favourite albums? Or are streaming platforms like Apple Music and Spotify enough? Let us know!


Thanks for reading Sole Groove! Entering the realm where streetwear and hip-hop music collide has been an authentic experience. Until we groove again, keep your playlists current and your kicks fresh.

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