MAIN-Apple-Music

Years ago I had stacks upon stacks of CDs. Most of them I bought, a few were given to me by friends and some of them were sent to me by record labels when I wrote about the music industry. When I wanted to listen to something, I would stare at the bookshelf on which I kept them and try to pick out the one that represented my mood at the time.

After many years of this, I had favorite CDs I never listened to anymore, because I had heard them so many times the songs were ingrained in my mind. Despite owning hundreds of CDs, I was sick of the music I owned and old enough to realize that there were a limited number of artists who had an entire album’s worth of music I wanted to listen to. And terrestrial radio, with its limited play list of the same five songs and endless commercials, was twice as bad.

This all changed with the introduction of streaming services in the early 2000s. Services such as Spotify, Pandora, Last.FM, Rdio would, generally, let you pick the type of music you wanted to hear and play it. You could type in an artist you wanted to hear, and the service would magically give you other, similar artists. Occasionally you would get a terrible match and could just tell the service to never play that artist again.

Those options were, and still are, great. And free. Most of the services offer a free level at which, after listening to one or two commercials, you can listen to around 30 minutes of music commercial-free. Most of these services offer a paid monthly option that lets you skip the commercials and gives you a few additional options. Now Apple, which purchased the Beats Music streaming service last year, is rumored to be preparing its own streaming service based on Beats for launch in a few months.  This would follow the re-launch of Jay-Z’s Tidal streaming service, which does not offer a free option. Apple is reportedly trying to convince the major music labels to pull their songs from all free streaming services and only offer them to people who pay.

This is, of course, crazy talk. If Apple manages to get the major labels on board, it would kill off the only part of the music industry that is growing. The number of people streaming music is rapidly growing while the number of people paying to download albums and singles is falling dramatically. While the music industry seems to have accepted the fact that we’re not going back to the days of buying overpriced albums for one good song; if they take Apple’s alleged advice and eliminate free streaming, that may as well be where they’re heading. Forcing people to pay for things they don’t want is why so many people are eliminating their costly cable subscriptions in favor of lower-priced options like Netflix.

Everyone wants artists to get paid. Otherwise, how will they make music that will become the soundtrack of someone’s life? Stopping free streaming isn’t the way.

Kamau High is a journalist living in Baltimore. In addition to consistently writing for the AFRO, he has written in the past for publications including The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, Billboard and The Baltimore Sun. He can be reached at kamauhigh@yahoo.com.