When I returned from class this morning, my entire Twitter feed was in a panic because the FCC voted to repeal the Obama-Era Net-Neutrality regulations. Everyone was suddenly so sure that they would be paying $14.99 a month to use social media, and this, clearly, meant that the world was going to explode for the average user, but what about independent musicians that rely on streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music, and Tidal, and internet radio such as Pandora, to build a fan-base and make an income? Many D.I.Y. musicians like myself heavily depend on these services, not so much for revenue, but for recognition, so what does this repeal mean for us?
Being able to release music directly to fans has been a Godsend for independent musicians and fans alike because it not only got people to hear, and fall in love with, artists’ work that they may not have otherwise discovered, but it eliminated the need for major labels for artists to make a workable income. Prior to streaming services and internet radio, musicians were only taken seriously through word of mouth, and more than likely, in order for someone to hear of a musician, they would have to hear their music on the radio, and in order to get mainstream radio play, musicians generally needed to be tied to a big label. Thanks to streaming services, this is no longer necessary.
Repealing Net Neutrality enables Internet Service Providers (or I.S.P.s) to charge for access to sites like Spotify and Pandora. Users of these sites might be thinking, “I already pay for premium access to these services. What’s the difference?”, and, simply put, the difference is that the user not only has to pay for their premium service, but they would have to pay just to enter the site.
Cayle Tyson, a Nashville-based independent musician, told the Rolling Stone that “if music consumers were forced to pay an extra charge just for using streaming sites such as Spotify and Pandora, then there would obviously be fewer people using those platforms. Therefore, we wouldn’t be getting as many plays and thus making less money. If that’s the case, it would make discovering new artists much more difficult, too. The Internet is our main platform of spreading our art through the world, and when you hinder Internet usage, you make it harder for us to do that.”
To add to this, all musicians know that their most fruitful source of income is not record sales but is the money they make from touring and selling merchandise. With fewer people being able to hear new and emerging artists, there will be fewer people buying tickets to their concerts, fewer people buying merchandise, and overall, fewer people supporting the artistry that has gotten the world through some of the worst times. Imagine a culture with no Woodstock because no one could access the music of that resistance.
The U.S. is in a state of political and economic turmoil once again, and independent artists are a major voice in this resistance. Making their music less accessible is stifling and smothering their voices. I cannot speak for anyone else, but I do not make my music for people who can afford it–I make it for everyone. Repealing Net Neutrality only serves to benefit rich people and leaves the starving artists and the average consumer to die.
However, the fight is not over. This repeal still has to make it through Congress. Continue to email, text, and call your representatives. Do not let this slide.
Stay angry. Stay hopeful. Stay vigilant. I believe in the power to change.