How much music is too much? Even for the most obsessed fan, there is only so much music to listen to before it takes out the joy from the experience.
Approximately 100k songs are uploaded every day to DSPs, according to Sir Lucian Grainge, CEO of Universal Music Group. The jaw-dropping number was mentioned during Grainge’s speech at the Music Matters conference in Singapore, on September 27, 2022, as reported by Music Business Worldwide. That’s a nearly 67% increase rate from the stats announced by Spotify in February 2021 — although it’s worth noting that Grainge’s statement was not restricted to Spotify.
The 100k number goes hand in hand with an editorial by Apple Music released just a few days after Grainge’s speech, on October 3rd, in celebration of the streaming platform reaching 100 million songs on their collection. In the words of Apple Music’s Global Head of Editorial, Rachel Newman, the number “is evidence of a more democratic space, where anyone, even a new artist making music out of their bedroom, can have the next big hit.”
But is 100k songs a day any better than the old days of big labels gatekeeping music? What does this milestone say about the way we make music, and listen to it?
To try putting together some answers and perspectives, let’s understand how the music industry got to the current landscape.
100k songs a day: how did we get here?
For one side, it’s easy to see that a number like 100k songs a day reflects how making, releasing and finding music has gotten easier in the last decades.
From a creator's perspective, easily downloadable DAWs and cheaper music equipment made it possible for any starter producer or songwriter to set up their own studios and make competitive quality music, to the point that nowadays a Grammy-worthy album can be produced in the artist’s own bedroom. The do it yourself (DIY) musical archetype might have begun in the underground with punk rock bands in the 1970s; but in the 2010s, the DIY musician looks more like someone recording music with a computer and a cellphone. The emergence of genres and subgenres tagged as “Soundcloud rap” and “bedroom pop” is only emblematic of how much digital, online facilities and platforms have impacted music.
In 2020, at 18 years old, Billie Eilish became the youngest solo artist to ever win Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards with When We All Fall Asleep Where Do We Go, an album produced by her brother FINNEAS at home.
The Internet made it possible for an artist to break through self-made music without no need for access to professional studios or being signed to a label — even if, for some of today’s biggest stars whose careers started on Soundcloud (Doja Cat, Bad Bunny, to name a few,) a record deal was on the way.
The difference is, now, music conglomerates are no longer ruling the music business alone. Distributing music through a big music label is one among many options an artist has, and many of them are choosing the independent route. A study by MIDiA Research found that in 2020, almost half the global market share was made of music rights owned by independent labels and artists (43,1%.)
No less important, social media has put marketing and branding in the palm of anyone’s hand, allowing new and independent artists to build a following that would support their music.
All of these factors converged to create a lower entry barrier in the music industry. It has gotten more inclusive, which is good; but it also has gotten more competitive.
The deluge of artists, music, and content makes it harder for any artist or song to stand out; and when they do, all the efforts go to keeping that attention as much as possible. The music consumer now needs, or even demands, more music from their favorite artists, to keep them interested.
“Traditionally artists would go a long time between album projects, disappear and then come back as a big event,” said Robbie Snow, SVP of Global Marketing for Hollywood Records, for Rolling Stone in 2018. But “in this day and age, we try to keep things flowing so artists almost never go away. Fans want to be engaged constantly with artists that they like.” The music industry shifted from album-oriented strategies to a bigger focus on singles. In the piece titled “Why Your Favorite Artist Is Releasing More Singles Than Ever,” Rolling Stone reported on how “keeping multiple singles in the market at once also allows labels to vet a variety of tracks and gauge listener response.”
All of these industry changes justify a higher influx of music. Even so, 100k songs a day is still a mind-boggling number. Would we have gotten to this milestone solely with new music?
100k songs? More like 100k sound files
In a 2016 Editorial for MUSIC x, Thiago R. Pinto commented on music consumption shifting from a matter of loyalty and identity to having a functional purpose. “Music started to be used according to the activities and tasks that listeners were performing during their daily routines,” Pinto wrote. “Like this, music preference that before was an almost immutable passion built through context, today looks like a chameleon changing from moment to moment.”
Fast forward to 2022, and if anything has changed is that people might have become even more apathetic to music. In a review of music algorithms’ decade-year influence on the overall consumer, Pitchfork writer Jeremy Larson says most of the world would fall into the category of passive listeners, “absorbing music like inhaling oxygen: without much thought at all,” or auxiliary listeners, for whom music is a utility.
The changing nature of music consumption behavior was enabled by how “corporate streaming services have ingrained themselves into our lives and facilitated music listening becoming more of a background experience,” as said music culture writer Liz Pelly for The New York Times in 2020.
A mood-based pattern of music consumption impacted the music industry in several ways. Playlists rose over albums, and Spotify and YouTube became a haven for listeners to whom music takes a rather utilitarian approach.
That was when we saw the start of a niche that was soon to become an industry of its own: meditation sounds, ASMR and calming sound effects, beta waves, lo-fi beats, white noise, brown noise, pink noise, as well as other “music genres” to help people sleep, meditate, or study. “Spotify’s End-Of-Year Playlists Have Exposed Everyone Who Uses White Noise To Sleep”, Pedestrian.TV wrote in 2019. The New York Times reported on white noise appearing amongst people’s most-played songs too, in 2020, and even tied its relationship with the coping mechanisms adopted during the pandemic.
But as much as white noise and genres alike helped people — literally — “get through” the years (as put in a line from the copy in Wrapped, Spotify’s annual personalized-chart event), not all streaming platform users were happy with how messed up the algorithm got because of it. “Anyone else's [Spotify] wrap get screwed up by listening to white noise or meditation sounds?,” a Reddit user asked in 2018. “I guess I had thought, rather foolishly, that Spotify would know better and filter the rain tracks out from the rest of my “real” music,” a Crimson Staff Writer, Samantha J. O'Connell, wrote in 2020. “Instead, ambient noise had infected my entire Wrapped run-down and rendered it pretty much worthless — “Relaxing Water Sounds” even cracked my Top Three Artists.” Since then, new apps and platforms have taken off too, but background music continues to make for some of their strongest niches such as on TikTok.
While background noise can be quite healing, “non-music music” has set a precedent for which music and audio coexist indistinguishably, enabling situations like music releases disputing spaces on charts with literal sound effects (that happened in Brazil on August 1st 2022, when a clapping sound effect charted #2 on iTunes.)
After all, not only therapeutic noise music infiltrated digital stores and streaming platforms, but also literal noises themselves (screams, farts, gunshots), sound effects for videos, and many other audio files that are not necessarily music. Some people are also concerned about the fairness of royalty payments for noise music makers. “[The fact that all streams are treated equally] seems democratic on some level, but it doesn’t account for the actual value that the listener gets,” guitarist and BrokenRecord campaign founder Tom Gray said to The Guardian.
So while 100k songs a day feels like a desensitizing count, one only wonders how many of these 100k songs really are “songs.”
Navigating 100k songs a day: what does the future look like for music lovers?
In Part 2 of this analysis, we’ll take a look at the side effects of our increasing access and exposure to music, and what might change because of it.
Until then, share your thoughts with us in the comments! We are curious to know what you think.
This content is published for informational and entertainment purposes and does not constitute legal or financial advice, nor promotion of any of the companies or artists here mentioned.