The Culture Journalist
The Culture Journalist
The past, present, and future of the musical commodity

The past, present, and future of the musical commodity

Marine Snow founder Tony Lashley on the end of the Big Streaming era and the return of the niche music internet

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Hi pals, 

The end of the year is upon us. Phew. A lot went down in culture and media in 2023. Before we dip for a short end-of-year break, it’s time for a music streaming check-in. Our own “Wrapped,” if you will. There’s a lot going on. 

Just last month, Spotify announced that it would stop paying artists completely for tracks with fewer than 1000 streams — just a few weeks before slashing 17 percent of its workforce (about 1500 people) in its third round of cuts this year. And those aren’t the only changes afoot in the digital music space: Back in October, Bandcamp laid off 50 percent of its staff after being acquired by music licensing company Songtrader, casting a pall of uncertainty over the fate of an important economic lifeline for underground and emerging artists. If you, like us, are confused and disheartened about what this means for independent music, fear not. We’ve got just the guy to help make sense of it all, and maybe even inspire a little hope. 

His name is Tony Lashley, and not only is he just crazy smart, but he has a unique insider’s view on the machinations of Big Streaming and the intersection of economics and aesthetics, thanks to some serious stints in marketing strategy and operations at both Spotify and Frank Ocean’s Blonded. These days, he’s been busy working on an an independent music-focused streaming platform and community called Marine Snow, which he describes as an attempt to be “hypercuratorial in the age of digital abundance,” and likens to an A24 for music.

Tony joins us for a roundtable on the past, present, and future of the musical commodity in the digital age. He breaks down the confusing economics of the streaming giants, why they keep bleeding money despite dominating the market, and what Spotify’s new royalties structure tells us about where the music internet is headed. We also discuss how our relationship with music is inextricably bound up with values like status and community, what Spotify has in common with H&M (and also mainstream radio), and why the future of music consumption may lie in niche-oriented music platforms like Marine Snow.

Tony Lashley. Photo courtesy of Tony.

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A supplemental reading list from from Tony:

Status and Culture: How Our Desire for Social Rank Creates Taste, Identity, Art, Fashion, and Constant Change, by David Marx

Spotify: Making profits on thin profit margins” by M Value Investing Research

“Layoffs won’t solve spotify’s biggest problem” by Timothy Green

“Spotify’s big bet on podcasts is failing, Citi says” by Jessica Bursztynsky

“China antitrust: Beijing orders Tencent to end exclusive music licensing deals in a first for the country” by Yujie Xue and Iris Deng

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