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A Streaming Pile Of Hits

26 January 15 words: Paul Klotschkow
How Philip George's recent chart success reflects our changing listening habits
Philip George

Philip George, whose hit Wish You Were Mine was first picked-up by Soundcloud users - Photo via Facebook

In the first week of 2015, Nottingham almost had its first number one single since KWS way back in 1992. The artist in question was Philip George, a DJ and Producer from Chilwell, who pretty much no one had heard of before.

The ex-Confetti student went straight in at number two with sales of 83,108, an outstanding achievement for a brand new artist with no huge label or press backing, getting pipped to the post by the gruesome-twosome of a Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars collaboration.

The song in question, Wish You Were Mine, is a catchy house track that uses a vocal sample of Stevie Wonder’s My Cherie Amour to good effect. An interesting aspect of all this is how an unknown musician appearing out of seemingly nowhere to crash land in the singles charts represents how our listening habits and the ways in which many of us access music are swiftly changing, with 2015 going to see the biggest changes for a long time.

Like thousands of other music makers all over the world, including many local artists featured in LeftLion, Philip George uses Soundcloud to upload and share his music. Wish You Were Mine got picked up by users of the site, snowballing in listeners and shares, so much so that at its peak it was getting 80,000 plays per day. At the time of writing, it has had well over three million plays. Not bad for a lad who was recently working in a clothes shop.

The popularity of the song caught the attention of dance label 3 Beat who swiftly signed George up and released the track to capitalise on its popularity. 

The way we listen to music is changing, dictated in many ways by advancements in technology and a record industry haemorrhaging money looking for ways to do things as cost-effectively (aka on the cheap) as possible. I wonder how many of you reading this listened to music today either through your phone, a tablet, or on your laptop? As I write this, I have Spotify streaming while my records and CDs remain untouched in another room.

The sale of downloads fell for the first time in 2014 with 30m albums downloaded compared to 32.6m in 2013. This dip in sales, bucking a trend of growth for the download market following the launch of iTunes by Apple a decade ago, can be attributed to consumers moving over to streaming services including Spotify and Deezer. CD sales continue to fall year in year out with 55.7m sales in 2014 a drop of 8% compared to the previous year. The odd one out of all of the physical forms is vinyl - the sale of vinyl continues to grow with 1.3m units sold last year, the highest since 1995, although this will only ever remain a niche market.

Streaming is already a popular way for consumers to access music and the retail value in the UK for subscriptions for streaming services is currently £175m. Spotify added 10m new users at the end of 2014 and now totals 60m users worldwide, 15m of which are paying subscribers. Streaming will continue to be even bigger business in 2015 and all of the major players will be pushing it as they try to save an ailing industry where record sales are nose-diving year in and year out. Since July 2014, audio streams from services such as Spotify, Deezer and Napster have counted towards official UK Offical Singles Chart rankings.

The three major music labels are already starting to cosy up to Soundcloud as the industry can no longer ignore what a service that has 250m registered users and 175m unique listeners each month can offer. The major labels are setting up licensing agreements with the platform as Soundcloud prepares to launch a subscription-based service sometime in 2015. The first agreement with Warners was announced back in November with the others set to follow. This represents something of a turnaround for a music industry that has traditionally tried to ignore trends in digital music - look at how long it took for them to come around to the idea of selling MP3s at the turn of the 2000s.

In the USA, the launch of Spotify was delayed in 2010 as the major labels played hardball over licensing their music and negotiated for a bigger slice of the pie, meaning they can have more of a control over how the service is run. Google have to plans to launch a music subscriptions service this year via YouTube. Even Apple, who changed the download game with iTunes, have bought Beats Music and not because they want to get in on the headphones market, but so that they could get their hands on the music streaming service that many predict they will start to bundle with their devices from any day now.

For the major music industry players, it makes perfect sense to want a slice of the streaming pie - consumers are flocking towards these services, and labels can generate revenue just from licensing and do not need to pay for manufacturing or distribution costs. Although smaller independents who do not have the negotiating power of the larger record labels may find it harder to agree to suitable licensing deals, as evidenced when they were at loggerheads with YouTube over terms for its proposed streaming service.

Yet for all of the popularity of streaming, the amount of money that eventually trickles down to the artists remains tiny. For example, a single download sale still provides far more money to the artist that a dozen streams on Spotify, with artists receiving approximately 6 to 20p per download compared to 0.34p per stream.

The advent of streaming coupled with the culture of sharing tracks across blogs and social media has seen a democratisation of music in recent years. Yet, it remains to be seen how many more opportunities there will be for new and unsigned artists to be able to bypass the traditional gatekeepers and breakthrough to chart victory on their own terms like Philip George did, especially as the major labels are starting to stake their claim on once previously independent platforms such as Soundcloud (BandCamp remains independent at the moment, although this is more of an online music store with streaming as one of its features).

Getting their name in the 'blogosphere' is something all new artists wanting to breakthrough aim for - you only need to look at Nottingham’s own Indiana and Saint Raymond who had songs on the Hype Machine (a sort of chart and aggregator for what is currently being shouted about on music blogs) as the wheels on their promo machines got cranking in their early days of getting signed.

This type of grass roots, low level promotion is and will always be important to new artists. In the past, this may have meant sticking up fliers around town, sending out tapes or CDRs to venues, promoters and journos; now it invariably means uploading your songs online, with Soundcloud - the most popular way of doing this - and sharing the link on Facebook and Twitter, emailing it around to your contacts and getting them up on those all important ‘taste-making’ blogs. But as the large record labels look for ways of saving money and latch on to streaming as the next so-called saviour of the record industry, the ease at which new and unsigned acts can do this may change. I hope not. Watch this space.

As Apple announce the death of the iPod Classic, it’s clear that our listening culture is changing, whether we want it to or not, and 2015 will be the biggest change since we were told those plastic silver discs were the future of music.

Philip George tours throughout the UK and Ireland during January, February and March 2015. 

Philip George Facebook

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