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Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Art is suffering at the hands of streaming

Video killed the radio star

 

By MOLLY THOMPSON — mmtthompson@ucdavis.edu 

 

 Our current media landscape revolves around a constant stream of content. There are more posts than a single person could ever keep up with — it would take over 18,000 years to watch every video currently uploaded on YouTube. The expectation of entertainment in the modern era is that it’s fed to us perpetually, which has changed the way that artists have to work. To keep up with our demands, they have to produce more rapidly. 

Before streaming became the primary way to access music, movies, TV shows and other entertainment, the process of creating media followed a much slower timeline. TV episodes were released on a weekly schedule instead of all at once (granted that some programs do still follow that model) and musicians took longer recesses in between album releases (granted that some still do break for greater periods of time), which meant that consumers had to wait. 

This served two major purposes. First, it allowed artists to revel in the creative process. A musician could spend multiple years developing a tracklist and could go away and marinate in their muses long enough to build a nuanced anthology. Now, artists are expected to churn out new records in succession — if they want to stay relevant, they don’t have the luxury of slowly creating a collection of songs. 

This is due, in part, to social media and how vlog-style content has become so mainstream. It’s normal for us to see creators releasing videos every single day on YouTube or even multiple times a day on short-form platforms like TikTok. We’ve become conditioned to expect content that’s released quickly and frequently, and the internet is so saturated, that we can move on and find something else to devote our attention to if we’re not getting that from a creator. 

Additionally, vlog-style content is relatively simple to produce. It doesn’t require the same level of meticulous construction that traditional media (i.e., movies and TV shows) does, which means that its value isn’t lessened by rapid production. Where this becomes an issue, though, is when we apply those expectations to traditional media — great works of art can’t be created without time. 

Vlog-style content serves its own purpose. This is not to say that it’s not valuable, but equating it to more involved mediums of production is leading to a landscape that doesn’t allow traditional artists to thrive. Because we’ve become conditioned to expect media to be released rapidly, we’ve created an atmosphere where musicians and filmmakers can’t survive if they don’t keep up; they won’t make enough money. So they try to churn out more media, but because they’re under the pressure of such a fast-paced culture, they can’t take the time to develop their art properly. We don’t allow them to indulge in the full creative process — the streaming era is harming great art. 

As for the second purpose, slower release schedules are used to build audience appreciation for the art itself. Rarity was part of what made it special; days when albums, movies or shows were released were events to look forward to. There was more of a build-up of anticipation and a celebration of the art and the artists. Consumers were forced to savor it — you couldn’t fly through a season of television all in one night; each one was special. 

Now, the industry is saturated to the point where it’s easy to move from movie to movie or from show to show without paying that much attention to its craft, which means that production companies can get away with putting less effort into what they produce. We don’t demand the same height of quality, so they don’t supply it for us. 

It’s a tandem effect: as an audience, we want more content and we want it now, so production labels have to cut quality in order to keep up. As we consume increasing amounts of content, we care less about the quality, so production labels put less effort into their projects. And it feeds back into itself; we’re left unsatisfied by subpar media, so we ask for more. Creators need to move faster to make more content, and the cycle begins anew. 

Another element is that artists don’t earn nearly as much revenue from streamed content as they do from other, more traditional distribution formats. In an atmosphere dominated by streaming, they have to release a greater quantity of content to turn a significant profit. 

Streams are also unprecedented in that, with regard to music, consumers have to listen to a certain percentage of the song for it to count as a “sale.” This leads artists to strategically orient their songs so that the catchiest, most-likely-to-get-stuck-in-your-head parts are near the beginning. If the beginning of a song doesn’t capture your attention, you might skip to the next one. Artists benefit financially from starting their songs with the hook because it draws you in, and you’ll be more inclined to listen to it in its entirety. 

This phenomenon is creating an empirical pattern in modern pop music — we’re seeing more and more songs kick off with the chorus or the hook. Sabrina Carpenter’s new single, “Espresso,” is a good example: it opens with the chorus. That’s done on purpose as introductions that slowly build up to the hook are becoming obsolete —  they don’t pay off.  

The modern era of streaming has changed the role that traditional media and entertainment play in our lives. Not only that, but it’s changing traditional media intrinsically. Media culture is moving more rapidly than ever before, and it will only continue to morph as the trend cycle moves and technology develops. The meaning of art in and of itself is malleable and constantly changing, but we’re seeing it change in new ways as streaming opens up new possibilities. 

New challenges breed creativity, so it’s true that artists are carving new spaces and innovating new ways to succeed. Streaming comes with many challenges, but many artists have been able to rise to them. The landscape is changing — not for the first time and certainly not for the last. It’s not a matter of resisting that change but of how we treat and preserve the sanctity of great art. 

 

Written by: Molly Thompson — mmtthompson@ucdavis.edu   

 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.

 

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