There have always been rumblings that streaming will take over entertainment at events. There are even some apps that focus on automation of music playback. And there is no question that streaming has been dominating the consumer music scene for some time. Gone are the days (mostly) of people digging through vinyl or flipping through CDs.
But with that, there is a mentality of using streaming-only services. You usually see this more with newer DJs but there are certainly some older ones embracing this. There are some benefits but there is a bit worse than good IMHO. Let’s dive into this a bit more.
By far, one of the more limiting things on streaming is it’s licensing. As of the writing of this article services like Spotify do not allow licensing for public or commercial performances in the US. Other services like Tidal and Soundcloud who are integrated into some DJ applications do not have a lot of languages associated with public performance playback. However just because it exists in the platform does not necessarily make it legal.
This is where the ambiguity of copyright law rears its ugly head. I’ve written extensively on the subject and honestly when push comes to shove, and if the labels decided they don’t like the terms of an agreement, they could muscle their way to yank their catalog off the service.
Lack of ownership
Like it or not, when you stream you are at the complete mercy of those companies. So if and when they have an issue with a licensing deal with a label or artist you could find yourself without many of the songs you had the day before. Or that company can go completely under, and so goes at least a portion of your music.
Heck in September 2017 Spotify nixed their integration into Virtual DJ. And then in November of 2017 Pulselocker announced it was shutting down.
This may not be a big deal for the casual listener, but for a professional DJ, this could mean disaster. That’s something you need to seriously consider especially for some of the DJs who are starting to build up their library solely on streaming media services.
Broadband is not widespread
Yes, broadband seems to be everywhere. Cell service is in most places, many venues have wifi. However many communities have access to fairly slow internet services, and some still not at all. Further many venues do not have access to fast internet, and with large crowds that gather at these venues the ability to get fast access can be nil.
Reliability can never be 100%
Imagine, it’s your first dance as a married couple. Your song starts, everyone is focused on you and a milestone in time that can never be duplicated, and all a sudden…
Even with the fastest internet speeds, you can run into bottlenecks, sometimes that service can just be down. Sure some application lets you download songs temporarily, it still can be pulled at a moment’s notice. Also working in backup scenarios with these kinds of services is pretty much non-existent.
Streaming service catalogs can be inferior
While streaming services like Spotify boast huge libraries of music they can still be woefully incomplete especially with older music. For example, a simple list of some of the top hip-hop songs that I created has almost 33% of the music unavailable in their library. For many professional DJs, they will go to extraordinary lengths to ensure that their music catalogs are very broad, covering from as early as the 1920s to today’s hits. Many labels refuse to offer their music to streaming services, and sometimes even services like iTunes. A professional DJ will get that music on what available medium that it’s available.
Anti-streaming is not anti-technology
I am not a technophobe. I have a nearly multi-decade long career in IT, and am always on top of the newest trends and technologies. I embraced the change in DJ technologies like going from vinyl to CD to digital media. However one needs to be mindful of the capabilities of what a particular technology has to offer, and what it’s shortcomings are. My personal opinion is that streaming music is an awesome service for personal use. For professional services like DJing where music is critical, it’s a service that can never compare to a DJ with a catalog of music in hand, not in the cloud.
I see this pop up from time to time, typically younger DJs who have been so engrossed in the streaming world that they feel that not paying for their source material is somehow a badge of honor.
This is certainly not the behavior that a true professional should exhibit. This almost sense of entitlement that a DJ will just pull from streaming sites as their only source of music. As the past has shown, this is a fool-hearty take on music acquisition.
What should you do?
Now one of the best steps a DJ can take is to subscribe to a music pool in which you pay a single monthly/yearly fee to get access to a treasure trove of typically newer music. But not all music pools are created equal. Some are set up in questionably legally murky countries and sometimes puts up music that is not on the up and up. So check out the truly legit pools like Promo Only.
For older music you should look towards compilation albums since obtaining legit legal older music from pools is pretty rare to find. If you do see a large pool of older music on a pool, chances are they are skirting the edge of the legal distribution of that music.
A larger discussion. Know and own your music.
I started DJing in 1988 where there were no MP3s, heck CDs were not even big in the industry yet. As a DJ you were hired not only because of your skills, but also your music curation. Now with huge libraries that fit into the palm of your hand or even in your fingertips and the demand from people that you literally have any song on the planet, it’s time to take a step back a bit. It’s time to get back into curation, knowing what you are buying, storing, and ultimately playback. Have enough of a library to hit any genre that comes at you, but do you really need 27 versions of one song?
Know your music. Invest in the tools that are making you a professional. The most critical piece of this is the songs you play.
This article was originally written on February 23, 2014 and has now been updated on November 10, 2017 including changing the title from “Spotify and Streaming Services” to “Your A DJ. Own Your Music”. There are some additional changes that were applied on February 18, 2019 including adding video, removing some pool services that no longer exist, and expanding on the topic of licensing.