Can bitcoin save music?

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The internet revolution has made it harder for musicians to make a living from their work. But it’s not all bad news for the industry, says Simon Wilson.

Why are recording artists worried?

Because it’s harder than ever to earn a living – and many of them think new technology is a big part of the problem. The question now is whether technology can also be part of the solution. Music sold on physical discs is not dead: CDs still account for about half the global music market. But the record industry has been upended by the internet revolution perhaps more than any other.

First, it was besieged by piratical file-sharing sites, then revolutionised by YouTube. iTunes and the sale of downloads by the track cut album sales to shreds. And now it is having to come to terms with the growth of Spotify and other streaming sites, the business model famously derided by Thom Yorke of Radiohead as “the last desperate fart of a dying corpse”.

How does streaming work?

Spotify, which started up in 2008, and newer rivals such as Deezer and Apple Music, all have a similar business model. “Premium” customers pay about $10 a month (£10 in the UK, rather unfairly) for unlimited access to a library of about 30 million tracks – something in the order of 90% of all recorded music sold over the past 50 years.

Alternatively, they have the “freemium” option of paying nothing but having to listen to advertisements to get access; about three-quarters of users prefer this option.

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