Musicoin: The Answer to Our Streaming Woes?

Musicoin: The Answer to Our Streaming Woes?

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These past few years, music streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music have been criticized for the way they compensate the artists featured on their platform. In 2014, Taylor Swift caused an uproar over her controversial decision to pull her music from Spotify after denouncing the service for devaluing published artistry. However, while Swift’s anti-streaming crusade appears to benefit both big and small artists, many independent artists don’t have the resources needed to remove themselves from these types of services without risking their careers.

“The income generated through Spotify is next to nothing,” notes Terry Kirkbride and NaoKoko of The Marbles Jackson, a dreampop band from Hackney, London. “But we can’t afford not to use them, as many people still use it a lot and our fans keep asking us if we are on Spotify, and many online magazines and blogs have their own Spotify playlists.”

Consumer demand has left many independent artists reliant on services that strip away some of their licensing rights. “It’s hard for independent artists to make changes on their own, unfortunately. The streaming companies need to stop taking advantage of the artists, but that’s not how they operate, is it?” Kirkbride and NaoKoko add.

Enter Musicoin; a new bitcoin-esque streaming service launched February 10, who's purpose is to level the playing field. 

Musicoin, created by Isaac Mao, Dan Phifer, and Brian Byrne (formerly of I Mother Earth), promotes itself as “providing a distributed and highly transparent platform that connects musicians and listeners directly. Musicoin lays the groundwork for a new age of music that is sustainable, borderless, and fair to all stakeholders.”

Musicoin aims to be a transparent and equitable partner to artists by utilizing blockchain technology to give artists more control over their work, licensing, and compensation. Functioning on a pay-per-play system, through Musicoin listeners can decide on payment amount which is then almost instantly transferred to the artist.

In April, Musicoin released their latest artist catalog featuring over 500 established partners. Although the service is still in its infancy, many independent artists are already seeing first hand the benefits of Musicoin and are optimistic about its potential to improve music streaming.

“The community's definitely very active and I've spoken to a couple of the creators behind Musicoin and they have their hearts and their heads in the right place, I think,” Dan Villalobos, a London-based music producer, composer, and mix engineer, comments about his experience on Musicoin so far. “Obviously, it's very early stage right now, but so far I've not seen anything problematic with it so I think it's very interesting if it stays around for the next five years, I think it will completely turn the whole thing around.”

Muyunda Mundale, an indie hip-hop recording artist under the name Young $enior, reflects similarly on his experience saying, “I prefer [working with Musicoin] at this point in time… I feel like we should be able to dictate the value of one play, and it shouldn’t be too low.” However, both artists add that because the service is so new there are still a few things that could be improved, such as the addition of a mobile app and other features. Mundale explains, “at this point the way Musicoin is right now. I feel like they’re getting the right idea, but it's not there yet. I think they need a mobile app...'Cause I don't prefer to listen to my music on my computer. I wanna listen on my phone.”

From a consumer's viewpoint, ease of use and convenience are what typically attracts new users. While many artists have enjoyed putting their music on Musicoin, they have some troubles navigating the service as listeners. When discussing Musicoin’s usability, Villalobos says “in terms of user experience, it’s still early days, I think.” He mentions that “in terms of usability and features, things like Spotify, and I guess all the other [services] have a similar ability to share a playlist via a link or just to invite people to collaborate on playlists… I think that’s why Spotify has caught a lot of users, because it’s just so easy to use.”

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Musicoin’s ability to attract fans and listeners could prove to be one of its pitfalls since many independent artists utilize streaming to gain much-needed exposure. Logan Brown from Kingston, Ontario’s husband-wife duo Taylor Angus even cites exposure as one of the biggest perks they’ve experienced from music streaming, particularly Spotify.  

When discussing the pairs use of streaming and issues of equitable compensation, Brown explains that “[the compensation] is definitely not great, but I don’t think that’s the purpose behind Spotify or the purpose behind any streaming company as it is… I think it’s been great for [exposure]. There’s been a lot of lifelong die-hard fans that have popped up just from listening to Spotify. It's a huge internet radio source, and I think that that recommended musicians thing has no discrimination on how many albums you sell or what label is backing you.”

Mundale also explains that gaining exposure is one of the biggest issues independent artists face, but also reflects that Spotify and other large-scale streaming services saturate the artist pool and make it hard for independent artists to be seen. He notes that since Musicoin currently has only a few hundred artists, it’s easier for individual musicians and groups to stand out.

“I feel like a lot of the streaming services give more priority to the label artists. It's not so good for independent artists, 'cause no one ever promotes you,” Mundale explains, “I think right now, [Musicoin] is good for independent artists, who are trying to get on. 'Cause there's not many artists on it now. If you were to upload the music right now, it'd be seen easier. As it expands, it's gonna turn out to be just the same as other streaming services.”

Overall, however, most independent artists are satisfied with their Musicoin partnerships and look forward to where the service goes in the future.

In the meantime, if you care about supporting independent artists or any artist you’re a fan of, try sending your money to services like Musicoin that advocate for equitable treatment and compensation for artists.

When asked about ways we can support the indie music scene, Terry Kirkbride and NaoKoko responded with  “buy music, go to see gigs, buy their merchandise, and stop paying subscription fees for streaming services but use that money to support them instead.”

Musicoin seeks to find the sweet spot between streaming and payouts by providing listeners with the easy access to new music while fairly compensating its partnered artists.

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