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Nobody Wants to Talk about it: The Death of Artists

Streaming and Music - The Consequences

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Streaming and Music - The Consequences
Streaming and Music - The Consequences

The Impact of Music – on Musicians

Arts and music are the most expressive industries. The spotlight they cast on artistic output is the death of many talented and upcoming artists. Contractual idiosyncrasies in the music industry offer several benefits, but also several distinct disadvantages. The mounting pressure to write, produce, and perform great music takes a toll on the artists, if not properly monitored. Although the current music industry offers many artists an opportunity to succeed, many times the artist will work themselves into a very unhealthy state. The creative process, and the pressure to remain relevant, exposes them to strong responses of depression, morbid public meltdowns, mental issues, and ultimately, may lead to their death.

The Impact of Streaming

On a similar note, the tantalizing premise of streaming services has led to success stories for a number of artists. As a consequence, music streaming services have resulted in a generation of single songs that have more impact than albums. At the same time, streaming has inexorably altered the music industry, which habitually notes the ‘death’ of artists, and many become tagged with the label of being one-hit wonders. However, as Paula Mejia wrote:

“While streaming continues to evolve at a breakneck pace, the system through which artists are paid for the music being listened to hasn’t evolved in tandem — meaning that, as dissenters note, many artists are still paid little, after services and labels take their respective cuts.”

Because of this new impact of streaming on artists, it is imperative to address the hot topic on the minds of many people – the literal and metaphorical death of artists due to mental health struggles, and the impact of streaming gatekeepers.

The wider cultural shift across the music industry, beginning with the advent of streaming, has introduced new types of gatekeepers. The industry is no longer siloed into discrete functions, such as promotion, publishing, talent management, and royalty collection, as it was in past decades. Streaming has changed music consumption and distribution, which has significantly altered popularity characteristics. The data used to evaluate the popularity of music and the artists, is obtained from streaming services in various classifications or charts. For instance, the Billboard’s Hot 100 includes weekly figures of the most popular songs across multiple regions and genres. It also ranks songs by radio airplay impressions, sales data, and streaming activity.

A Short Chart Life

The digital vetting process filters through songs, separating dubs and creating songs/singles that chart for only one week, known as “one-week wonders.” Digital songs are considerably more likely to plunge from modern digital vetting processes and disappear from the charts into oblivion. As Jerry Lao and Kevin Hoan Nguyen wrote in their article:

“The end result is that digital songs are significantly more likely to fall off the chart in the first week compared to CD songs, but the effect moderates over time as the digital songs are scrutinized and only the good songs remain.”

Moreover, the processes favor established artists who often regularly dominate the weekly charts. The digital platforms increase the avenues and frequency of music evaluation, as well as the speed with which singles from less established but talented artists peak and disappear — a one-time spotlight phenomenon.

The Decline of The Rising Career

The bedrock structure used by modern streaming services is disproportionately biased against emerging and midsize artists. The unfavorable model guts the musical career of many upcoming artists. Popular streaming services, including Apple Music and Spotify, use a “pro rata” model to determine how revenues are distributed. According to Mejia, the meaning of pro rata is that:

“rights-holders are paid according to market share; how their streams stack up against the most popular songs in a given time period. The people who hold the rights to the most listened-to tracks, then, stand to make the most.”

This model is vastly critiqued as unreasonably privileged because it prioritizes and benefits the services themselves, followed by top artists and labels.

As a result, emerging and midsize artists have little chance to earn a decent living. In addition to money considerations, there is a shift toward purpose and mood-driven playlists, instead of full album plays. This pattern is mainly adopted as an advertising tool that functions on the basis that more value is derived from people listening more. Therefore, singles are pushed and popularized to the extent they matter more than artists or full-length albums.

Striving To Succeed

Music has a powerful positive impact on listeners’ mental health, yet many artists are subject to a negative impact, as they struggle with dire mental health issues. Sudden fame, and a lifestyle revolving around music creation and live performances, can intensify mental health challenges, including substance abuse and other psychological issues. In a tangential way, the quest to enter and rise to the peak of the music industry can massively impact an artist’s emotional health. Artists report despair and suicidal thoughts after repeatedly being turned away while trying to rise to fame.

This rejection reflects the brutal competitive nature of the industry, as only a few achieve a successful career. Several aspects trigger these problems, including lack of confidence, anxiety due to rejection and failure, negative influence of others, and the impact of exploitation. The callous nature of the music industry is evidenced by the peak in record sales immediately upon the death of an artist. Mental health struggles are a real menace in the sector that continue to steal big talents, and numb shining stars.

The Impact of Performance Pressure

The music community produces significant pressure and stressors. Artists often experience high-pressure situations, including gigs and live shows, attended by thousands of eager and expectant people. Artists are human, and the body is pre-programmed to respond in different ways under stress, which includes various physical and psychological states. Hence, musicians can either perform well due to the heightened awareness from adrenaline rushes, or suffer panic attacks or even memory loss, which cause long-term anxieties. Several artists have reported instances of stress-related breakdown that trigger unhealthy habits such as drinking and drug abuse.

Demi Lovato, for instance, has been admitted in hospital for drug overdose in the past. Before this incident, Lovato was and is still among the most vocal artists on mental health awareness within the music community. Anxiety struggles are also prevalent among several high-profile artists. Such debilitating issues cause much exasperation, necessitating the need to address them publicly. If left unaddressed, issues arising from high-pressure music industry may rapidly deteriorate to feelings of severe depression and suicidal thoughts. 

Behind the Scenes – the Artist Suffers

It is paradoxical that music and musical communities and events foster a supportive environment to relax and have fun, yet artists suffer behind the scenes. The music industry is often a smoke and mirrors business, where artists may be portrayed as figureheads who have greater fortitude than others. Media and even artists foster these perceptions and encourage misconceptions about the magnitude of financial success. Nonetheless, they conceal the dire health conditions, and even worse financial outcomes that often occur.

The industry provides a brief window of opportunity for an artist to peak, but is all too often the death of many aspiring artists. Although streaming is arguably an engine driving the music industry to new heights, it is a black spot for those labelled as one-hit wonders. The sector is characterized by monsters, including mental health disorders, depression, and the death of artists and talent.

The Death of an Artist

Unfortunately, the most powerful impact of mental health issues in the music industry arises after the death of an artist. This issue is reflected in the deaths of major acts such as Avicii, who reportedly committed suicide after struggling with thoughts about the meaning of life, and Michael Jackson, who struggled with painkiller drugs addiction for years before dying from a combination of drugs. Artists are perceived (by fans) and portrayed (by the media) as having fun, ‘living the time of their lives’, and as people with superhuman fortitude. With this increased attention, artists often become influencers, and the demand for them to share their personal opinions and become subjected to the pressures of scrutiny, become even higher.

Instances of depression, mental breakdown, and even death show a different side of the lives of musicians. This situation shows the complexity and skewed perceptions about the subject of mental health issues in the context of the music industry. Unlike the easily relatable and understood cases of depression and anxiety such as schizophrenia, mental disorders and associated death within the music community is a major menace. The morbid public meltdowns, depression, and mental issues and ultimate deaths of artists continue to intrigue people – but sadly, just not enough to take action.

Works Cited

Lao, Jerry, and Kevin Hoan Nguyen. “One-Hit Wonder or Superstardom? The Role of Technology Format on Billboard’s Hot 100 Performance.” 2016, web.stanford.edu/~xhnguyen/BillboardandTechnology.pdf. Accessed 15 July 2020.

Mejia, Paula. “The Success of Streaming has been Great for Some, but is there a Better Way?” NPR, 22 Jul. 2019, www.npr.org/2019/07/22/743775196/the-success-of-streaming-has-been-great-for-some-but-is-there-a-better-way. Accessed 15 July 2020.

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