Ok, I admit it, I have on several occasions ranted about my thorough dislike of all things streaming – specifically streaming services. I’ve moaned about having my listening experience being tailored to my past listening preferences, and I’ve whined about being tied to a screen and the lack of physical media. I also didn’t like the fact that I found myself constantly flicking between tracks and not playing full albums. Don’t get me wrong, I ripped most of my collection of CDs to a NAS and then a Melco unit years ago and streamed them of a weekend evening when we were having a bevvy or three whilst we leap about like the Lords from that Christmas tune. I’ve also moaned about the fact that artists get very little revenue from their music being streamed – more on this later.

So what’s happened? Why the epiphany? The truth of the matter is I’m not really sure. I don’t know if I’ve mellowed over the years (highly unlikely) or if something just clicked with the whole streaming thing, but it certainly has. Let’s go back to earlier in the year (last year), a time before this whole pandemic gubbins happened along – seems like a lifetime away, doesn’t it? Anyway, I looked at Roon as my Auralic streamer was Roon ready and did a little research on it and how I could implement it in our system.

Now, I’m about as handy a choice with regards to DIY (or anything like that) as a bull would be a good option as a crockery shop assistant. I can put plugs on. I can sort cabling out and work problems back. What I can’t do is build things. Give me a schematic and you may as well have handed me a piece of papyrus with hieroglyphs on it – they mean absolutely nothing to me. So having no practical skills, no idea of building anything electronic, and even less about the witchcraft that is computers I decided to buy myself all the parts to put a little computer together with the notion of using as a dedicated Roon doodad to feed to the Auralic. It all arrived and sat there for a few days and a few days more. There were likely to be shouting and tantrums in the process of building this, that was a given. Did I mention I have NO DIY skills?

The day of reckoning came and I laid it all down on the floor ready to explode in a fit of pique and throw it all in the bin. Screws would be lost and I’d be ending up under the settee trying to retrieve said screws to no avail. The cats would find the screws and secret them away in a place only known to themselves! But it just didn’t pan out like that. I had the whole thing up and running and attached to our home network in a matter of just a few hours – result. I had committed to this properly and had already got the Roon app set up on the iPad and a Qobuz account was also ready to go. This was all going too well and disaster was imminent, I was sure. Turned everything on, followed the instructions to get Roon to see the Auralic, and waited for it all to make no noise at all, or at worst to go pooof and emit a plume of smoke. There was noise and it wasn’t a poof kind of noise – it wasn’t even a smoky sizzle! I had music. I was shocked. I was pretty chuffed actually and started to listen and explore the Roon-World.

Now, for those that don’t know, Roon pulls all your collection of files, wherever they are on your network, and displays them on the interface. Not only does it organise stuff, but it also gives you information about the artists and makes suggestions based on your listening habits – and the more you use it the better it gets at making these suggestions. Yes, I am aware I said I didn’t like this kind of thing, but I was discovering loads of new artists with Roon/Qobuz and I was losing hours just enjoying new-to-me artists and music. Now, you’d think that having access to all this music online would have stopped me from buying records, but it just hasn’t – if anything I’m buying more vinyl than ever, and from artists I would never have discovered if it wasn’t for “Getting lost down the rabbit hole” as David Solomon from Qobuz describes the experience. I do think artists should be paid more for each stream (and that goes for all online streaming platforms), and I do think it would be good for artists to be able to sell their merchandise on the platform as they can on Bandcamp – let’s face it, merch’ is now a major revenue stream (pun intended) for bands, particularly in this time of the Covid pandemic where the bands have lost their gigs and ability to flog merch’.

So what has changed from my perspective? The answer is I really don’t know but I just seemed to click with the Qobuz and Roon experience this time around. I enjoy reading about artists, I enjoy listening to other people’s playlists, I love finding new music and I really like the interface. Perhaps the whole lockdown thing has had something to do with it – we all seem to have more time on our hands to listen to music, fanny about with our kit or try new things. “So has physical media taken a back seat at all?” I hear you ask. Well no it hasn’t, not at all…well a bit, I suppose. I’m still listening to vinyl a good deal, but I’m also finding I’m getting more engrossed in albums as a whole and find myself completely absorbed in the experience of listening to records.

There is the argument that streaming is killing new music coming through and I really do get this claim, and I know a lot of musician friends who subscribe to this notion. However, streaming isn’t going anywhere and I think it is important that musicians and streaming services come together to improve the model and skew it somewhat more in favour of the musicians… and not just the record companies and streaming services who currently hold the power. I mentioned gigs and merchandise earlier and I believe fully that this is the way forward. The streaming services owe musicians a debt of gratitude in my opinion and must if they are to be credible in the minds of music lovers, and in the long-term, find some way of ensuring musicians are paid and paid properly – and I don’t just mean the mega names of the pop and rock and roll world. Streaming services have the bandwidth to be able to showcase virtual gigs (perhaps pay to view) with ads for merch’/physical media, and this could be done for unknown bands and unknown labels – after all, in this time of the pandemic, we don’t have the opportunity to go out to the pub on a Friday or Saturday to see an unheard of but possibly great band/artist. Look, I’m not clever enough to come up with all, if any, of the solutions but I am aware that the present situation is not sustainable in the long term.

Or perhaps it is, only slightly different! Perhaps more people will, when this current worldwide “situation” is over, come together to form musicians’ collectives like the Serial Bowl Records Collective who put out physical vinyl, CDs, Merch’ and more for relatively unknown bands around the world. They put on gigs where the artists take the biggest cut of the door and any profits are ploughed back into the collective to give a platform to an ever-growing roster of artists. Tie these kinds of people up with the likes of Qobuz (other streaming services are available) and you have a bigger platform, fresh music, and a more equitable model where everyone can prosper and thrive.

 

 

 

 

 

Stuart Smith

 

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