Digital Media Digest

March 2020

With the accelerating pace of technological change, the League posts a monthly digest of relevant news and information regarding changes, trends, and developments that may affect the digital media activities that orchestras use to achieve their institutional missions. For each monthly digest, the League's digital media consultants, Michael Bronson and Joe Kluger, draw from a variety of websites and publications to provide excerpts or summaries of articles. (These do not necessarily represent the views of the League.) 

As a service of the League, members with questions about the information in this digest or about other digital media topics – e.g., planning, strategy, and production – may contact  Michael Bronson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Joe Kluger at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

COVID-19 streaming update:
Orchestras are rapidly considering how they can continue to serve their communities through streamed performances and digital learning events. An agreement has been reached between the leaders of many U.S. orchestras and the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada, the musicians' union, which will allow orchestras whose communities are impacted by the COVID-19 crisis to more easily offer audio or audio-visual streaming of certain performances to their audiences. As a service of the League, member orchestras with questions about planning, strategy, and production may contact the League's electronic media consultants, Michael Bronson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Joe Kluger at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


What the death of iTunes says about our digital habits
One of the great cultural events of the 2010s was the slow abandonment and ultimate death of iTunes. By the time the software was euthanized in 2019, it had become an embarrassment, a mess of greasy preference panes and grayed-out, unreliable content. The abandonment of iTunes also heralded a broader shift in how Americans are assumed to approach their digital lives. You could call it the victory of Gmail, which - instead of encouraging people to file their email into folders or delete it - encouraged an approach that, anywhere else, would be called hoarding. “Just keep everything and easily find it later.” So what really failed, maybe, wasn’t iTunes at all—it was the implicit promise of Gmail-style computing. The explosion of cloud storage and the invention of smartphones both arrived at roughly the same time, and they both subverted the idea that we should organize our computer. What they offered in its place was a vision of ease and readiness. (Source: The Atlantic)

A music artist says Apple Music pays her 4 times what Spotify does per stream
Spotify and Apple Music are the two dominant players in the music-streaming market and they might seem the same to many consumers, with similar features and pricing. But because of the system by which artists are paid, they can vary wildly in the royalty rates they pay out. While Zoë Keating, an independent cellist, earns more per month in streaming royalties from Spotify than Apple Music (because she is streamed most often there), she earns four times more per stream from Apple Music. From January to September last year, Keating earned $0.012 per stream from Apple Music, and about $0.003 per stream from Spotify after distributor fees. Why are the rates so different? Most streaming services pay artists using a system known as pro rata, in which all the money generated from listeners each month is totaled up, then divided proportionally by listening time in order to determine how much each artist on the service should be paid. But some in the industry prefer an alternative user-centric system, which means that if one user pays $9.99 a month for Spotify Premium but only listens to independent cellist Zoë Keating, that user's $9.99 would be paid exclusively to Keating. (Source: Business Insider)

Top of the flops: is streaming rendering the charts obsolete?
The singles charts have always been a bit of a shambles, but recently they have been upgraded to “hot mess” status. In the US, some artists face accusations of industrialized fake streaming, where stream “farms” have thousands of devices hammering the first 31 seconds of a track on Spotify or YouTube so they get registered as a play. Then there is Billboard having to tighten its chart rules around “album-bundling”, where acts sell CDs or downloads rolled in with tickets or merchandise to juice their first-week sales. Chart companies are permanently scrambling to keep up with technology. Downloads, for example, were quarantined in their own chart before finally being rolled into the “grownup” chart. Streaming, however, has proven the biggest existential threat, with a complex weighting system eventually being applied, and convoluted conversion equations cooked up to arrive at sales equivalents in chart tallies where, for example, 100 streams on the paid version of Spotify, but 600 plays on the ad-supported version, “equal” a sale. (Source: The Guardian)

Now you can listen to Philadelphia Orchestra performances free on demand
The Philadelphia Orchestra is putting high-quality recordings of its concerts online for free. An initial batch of nearly three dozen pieces from the 2018-19 season are now available for listening on the orchestra’s website — a number that will grow over time. The orchestra previously offered online recordings, but the service was available only to orchestra donors and ticket buyers. This new one, at philorch.org/ondemand, is free to all and has been redesigned to include clickable track lists, a search function to find individual pieces and movements of works, program notes and images from concerts, and information about upcoming performances related to the online content. (Source: Philadelphia Inquirer)

New media gets new audiences into an old art form
Seattle Opera, which produces five operas each year for an audience of more than 100,000, was early among arts organizations to use digital and social media to engage audiences. Its use of those tactics was given an early boost by a $750,000 Wallace Foundation Excellence Award, which provided funds for four years of experimentation between 2009 and 2012, as described in this 2015 case study. Those efforts were largely focused on deepening participation among those already attending, using technology to create opportunities to interact with the company and its productions. In a blog post, the Wallace Foundation provides an update on the Seattle Opera's Wallace-funded efforts to determine whether technology can help enhance the opera experience. (Source: Wallace Foundation)

RNZ board backs down, Concert to stay on FM
The Radio New Zealand (RNZ) board has backed down on the decision to take Concert, the classical music station, off the FM transmission. The move comes after widespread criticism from the arts community and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's announcement that the Government would free up unused FM broadband spectrum to keep the station where it is. (Source: New Zealand Herald)

TikTok revenue surges 310% to $50MM in Q4
According to data compiled by Apptopia, in-app revenue at TikTok during the fourth quarter of 2019 surged 310% to more than $50 million. The results came in spite of increased scrutiny of the company by members of U.S. Congress. Adam Blacker, who is the vice president of insights and alliances at Apptopia, also published a chart on Twitter showcasing TikTok’s dramatic rise in in-app revenue during the year. From the first quarter to the third, the company’s revenue rose from around $10 million to $20 million before skyrocketing in the fourth. (Source: Digital Music News)

SiriusXM celebrates 34.9 million subscribers — but won’t disclose Pandora numbers
SiriusXM Holdings announced that it has finished 2019 with 34.9 million paid subscribers, which is a new high for the company. While the company did not indicate how many Pandora subscribers they have, Zack Silver — who is an analyst for B Riley — told The Hollywood Reporter that there are currently 6.45 million paying Pandora subscribers. (Source: Digital Music News)

US-based music streams cross 1 trillion in 2019, up 25% over 2018
A new report from BuzzAngle Music says that US-based music streams broke one trillion for the first time in 2019. The previous high for US-based music streams was set in 2018 with 809.5 billion, representing a 25% increase. Music streaming accounted for 85% of all music consumption in the United States. That number is up 7.6% from the 2018 high of 77%. Interestingly enough, overall album consumption (including ‘equivalents’) rose in 2019 by 13.5%. (Source: Digital Music News)

Amazon claims more than 55 million music streaming users
Amazon says its Amazon Music streaming service has surpassed 55 million customers. There are six different pricing tiers for its streaming service, including a free ad-supported tier. Amazon Music first launched in October 2016, but it still lags behind Apple Music and Spotify. Just last summer, Apple Music announced 60 million subscribers. Last quarter, Spotify confirmed it has around 113 million paying subscribers and 248 million users globally. There is no drill-down for how many users are in each of the Amazon Music tiers. Amazon does reveal that the growth of Amazon Music Unlimited is up 50% over the last year. (Source: Digital Music News)

YouTube has more than 20 million paying subscribers — music subscriber numbers remain elusive
YouTube Music and YouTube Premium have more than 20 million paying customers between the (confusing) offering. YouTube TV picks up more than two million subscribers in the United States. Sundar Pichai, CEO of both Alphabet and Google, shared the details during the company’s Q4 earnings call. This earnings call is the first time Google has revealed paying subscriber numbers for YouTube Music — or at least something that includes YouTube Music. YouTube’s paying subscriber base generated a $3 billion annual run rate – including subscriptions and non-ad related revenues. 22 million paying customers is just 1% of YouTube’s two billion monthly visitors. Google believes the company can continue to massively expand the reach of YouTube Music. (Source: Digital Music News)

Spotify reaches 124 million premium subscribers — but quarterly losses top $85 million
Spotify closed 2019 with 124 million premium subscribers—a 29 percent increase from 2018’s year-end figure—but this user influx wasn’t enough to prevent the company from sustaining heavy overall losses. Spotify’s earnings report also indicated that the streaming service’s premium-subscriber base grew 10 percent between the third and fourth quarters, and that 153 million users have adopted the free version, which features ads. The new free-version user total is 29 percent higher than it was at the end of 2018 and nine percent higher than it was during the previous quarter. (Source: Digital Music News)

Apple music has been quietly expanding its preferred distributors list
Back in November of 2018, Apple launched its Preferred Distribution Program. Three partners were listed as “Preferred Plus” partners — The Orchard, Kontor New Media, and CD Baby. This list has now expanded to include two more members. Both Believe Digital and FUGA are now listed as ‘Preferred Plus’ distributors. Both distributors were simply ‘Preferred’ back in 2018 at the program’s launch. Apple says to qualify as a Preferred Plus distributing partner, a distributor must cross 40,000 songs per quarter. Other requirements include a low Apple Music rejection rate and support for basic and advanced customer features. Preferred distributors must meet the same requirements, but only cross 10,000 songs per quarter. They also only support basic (no advanced) customer features. (Source: Digital Music News)

YouTube is testing ‘Applause,’ a way for viewers to directly donate to creators
YouTube appears to be testing a way for desktop viewers to reward content creators with ‘Applause.’ Users can buy the Applause feature on specific creators’ videos to show support for that YouTube channel. The feature is a very similar concept to the micro-transactions available to gamers on Twitch. The YouTube Applause feature seems to be less transparent than Twitch. Though the feature is in testing, the official support page doesn’t detail how much creators actually get. The lack of transparency is an issue when YouTube already faces low artist compensation rates. The feature is obviously designed to help pick up the low-royalty payment slack by offering digital tipping. But YouTube isn’t willing to disclose how much it takes off the top for providing the service. For now, the viewer Applause feature appears limited to desktop users in certain countries. (Source: Digital Music News)

Time for a DMCA overhaul? congressional hearings commence on Capitol Hill
Congress may be turning its attention to a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) overhaul as part of a bipartisan effort to reign in the influence and reach of leading tech companies and social media platforms. In essence, the DMCA protects copyrighted works while exempting internet service providers (ISPs) and social media platforms from liability relating to their users’ uploading and viewing habits. So long as ISPs and social-media companies respond to copyright holders’ DMCA requests in a reasonable and timely manner, they will not be held responsible for infringements; conceivably, the involved individuals will be subject to punishment. Lawmakers have noted that much has changed since the DMCA was passed, when the internet was in its infancy. Furthermore, some maintain that leading tech companies take advantage of “safe harbor” laws by enabling users to post and share copyrighted works until the corresponding owners file a DMCA notice. Naturally, sifting through many billions of posts, videos, and even whole websites, is an expensive and involved process for both small and large companies. (Source: Digital Music News)

RPO research shows increased interest in orchestral music among young people
According to new research by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO), 73% of British adults have an active relationship with orchestral music, rising to 83% of those aged under 25. Almost half of young people polled (46%) listened to orchestral music on streaming platforms such as Spotify or YouTube – compared with 15% of people over 65 – making it the most common way young people are engaging with orchestral music. (Source: Rhinegold)

End of an era — CD Baby is shutting down its online music store
CD Baby is shutting down its online music store at the end of March, because online CD sales have plummeted to a tiny percentage of the company’s revenues. In 2009, online store sales accounted for 27% of the total revenue paid to artists each week. By 2019, sales from the store account for less than 3% of artists’ overall earnings, according to the company. Add flattening downloads into the mix, and the decision becomes pretty easy. CD Baby says it will focus on the aspects of its business that continue to be successful. Distribution, monetization, and promotion services will continue to be priorities. One thing to note – CD Baby says its physical distribution program is still alive and well. The majority of orders for physical distribution CDs and vinyl records come from storefronts like Amazon or artist storefronts on Shopify. (Source: Digital Music News)

Spotify steps up its concert listings with resident advisor partnership
Spotify is teaming up with Resident Advisor for new concert listings for local events. The partnership will connect Spotify listeners to gigs featuring artists they listen to in their local area. The localized listings will be promoted throughout the Spotify app. Spotify says the partnership aims to provide a new pipeline of support to local venues and independent promoters. The feature is similar to something YouTube Music has offered for over a year now, displaying concert listings on an artists’ page. (Source: Digital Music News)

2019’s US-Based streaming music market was larger than the entire recorded music market in 2017
According to a detailed report by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), 2019 brought a substantial uptick in US-based music industry revenue. Streaming catapulted the double-digit gains; the format is now larger than the entire US-based recorded music market in 2017. The annual analysis of recorded music’s total earnings indicated that U.S. recorded music revenue grew by an impressive 13 percent, from $9.8 billion in 2018 to $11.1 billion in 2019. Significantly, 2019 was the fourth consecutive year to feature double-digit revenue growth. Even more staggeringly, year-2019 streaming figures are eclipsing entire recorded industry totals from previous years, including as recently as 2017. (Source: Digital Music News)