Streaming platforms, once a bunch of fringe services, became a crucial component of the music industry in 2015. Their importance was acknowledged at the end of last year, when the Billboard 200 chart started to incorporate streaming data; in the first half of 2015, revenue from streaming in the U.S. cracked $1 billion for the first time.
As streaming solidified its position in the mainstream, the marketplace also became more competitive. Two major new platforms entered the fray this year: Tidal, which presented itself as a creator-friendly service, and Apple Music, which has the advantage of building on iTunes' massive music distribution infrastructure. Both Pandora and Spotify made moves into new areas to diversify their appeal, while the smaller service Rdio went bankrupt. Here are the most important things that happened this year in the streaming world, in chronological order.
1. Pandora in the lead (March 5)
Edison Research and Triton Digital publishes the The Infinite Dial 2015 report on the U.S. music streaming market. Pandora is dubbed the leader of the pack, with high brand awareness and high monthly usage.
2. Tidal enters the fray (March 30)
Jay Z recruits Beyoncé, Rihanna, Kanye West, Jack White, Arcade Fire, Usher, Nicki Minaj, Coldplay, Alicia Keys, Calvin Harris, Daft Punk, deadmau5, Jason Aldean, J. Cole and Madonna to help him launch a new streaming service called Tidal. Jay suggests that listeners are treating music as a disposable pleasure—“People are not respecting the music, and devaluing what it really means”—and that Tidal will restore the balance. “It’s like you’re working hard and you’re not receiving,” he added. “In any other business people would be standing before Congress. They have antitrust laws against this kind of behavior. It almost seems like when it applies to music no one really cares who’s cheated.” Lil Wayne later adds his name to the list of stars who support the service, and Prince endorses it as well. (Kanye’s involvement at this point seems questionable.)
3. Spotify grows (May 20)
Spotify announces that it’s expanding into video content, radio, and podcasts. At the same time, the platform shares plans to partner with major companies like ABC, Nike, Condé Nast, ESPN, NBC, and Vice Media. CEO Daniel Ek stresses a new and improved playlist generator which selects music for listeners based on mood, time of day, preferences, and expert recommendations.
4. Taylor Swift speaks up (June 21)
Taylor Swift writes an open letter to Apple Music criticizing the company’s decision not to pay artists during the service’s three month trial period: “I find it to be shocking, disappointing, and completely unlike this historically progressive and generous company.” “We don’t ask you for free iPhones,” she continues. “Please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation.”
5. Apple Music listens loud and clear (June 22)
Apple Music agrees to compensate artists during the trial period. The company’s senior VP, Eddy Cue, announces the reversal on Twitter. “We hear you @taylorswift13 and indie artists. Apple will always make sure that artist are paid. #AppleMusic will pay artist for streaming, even during customer’s free trial period.”
6. Google goes free (June 23)
Google Play moves into free streaming. As Spotify puts more and more emphasis on paying plans—Tidal and Apple Music launched without a long-term free tier—Google sees an opening. As with Pandora, listening is limited to Google’s curation service; free users cannot browse at will. Google touts its “team of music experts, including the folks who created Songza.”
7. Apple Music officially launches (June 30)
Apple launches its new streaming service, Apple Music. In addition to providing a new way to listen, the platform includes Connect, which is supposed to enhance the relationship between artists and fans, and Beats 1 Radio, a 24-hour broadcast in 100 countries overseen by big name DJs—Zane Lowe, Ebro Darden, Julie Adenuga—and marquee artists: Dr. Dre, Drake, Pharrell.
8. Rhapsody quietly hits milestone (July 22)
Rhapsody rarely earns mention in the same conversations as Spotify, Tidal, and Apple Music, but the company quietly reaches 3 million paying subscribers this summer.
9. Streaming hits $1 billion at the halfway mark (September 22)
The RIAA’s report on music consumption during the first half of 2015 shows that revenue from music streaming in the U.S. cracked the $1 billion mark in the first half of 2015. This marks a 23% increase relative to the first half of 2014. The value of paid subscriptions also grew 25% to $478 million.
10. Tidal reports early numbers (September 29)
According to Jay Z, Tidal reaches one million subscribers. The MC tweets, “‘Nothing real can be threatened, nothing unreal exists.’ Tidal is platinum. 1,000,000 people and counting.” He puts together a massive concert at the Barclays Center to celebrate. Billboard points out that this number “comes with a caveat… Approximately 510,000 already were onboard when [Jay Z] acquired the tech company Aspiro and its subscription service WiMP, which launched in the United States under the Tidal brand prior to the acquisition.”
11. Apple says it's time to pay up (October 1)
For those who started Apple’s free three-month trial when Apple Music debuted June 30th, the free fun ends the first week of October.
12. Pandora goes live (October 7)
Pandora makes a move into live music by buying Ticketfly. The streaming service’s CEO declares, “This is a game-changer for Pandora—and much more importantly—a game-changer for music. Over the past 10 years, we have amassed the largest, most engaged audience in streaming music history. With Ticketfly, we will thrill music lovers and lift ticket sales for artists as the most effective marketplace for connecting music makers and fans.”
13. Apple celebrates (October 20)
Speaking at a Wall Street Journal conference, Apple CEO Tim Cook claims that Apple Music has 15 million users, 6.5 million of whom are paying for the service. He touts the curatorial aspect of the platform in particular. “I’m finding personally that I’m discovering a whole lot of music that I wasn’t listening to before. I think it’s fabulous. And to have over 15 million on there, and 6.5 million in the paid category, I’m really happy about it, and I think the runway here is really good.” Only Spotify has more paying users (last reported at 20 million), but it took Spotify four years to reach a similar number.
14. Deezer makes big plans (October 22)
The French streaming service Deezer announces plans for an IPO. Though Americans don’t know much about the company, its 3.8 million paying users make it the fourth most popular music streaming service in the world.
15. Apple bumps Pandora (October 23)
Cook’s announcement about Apple’s subscriber base pairs with below-expectations third quarter revenues for Pandora; as a result, the company’s stock drops by 35% in a single day.
16. YouTube gets in the ring (October 28)
YouTube introduces YouTube Red and YouTube Music. In a blog post, the company explains the two new services. “YouTube Red lets you enjoy videos across all of YouTube without ads, while also letting you save videos to watch offline on your phone or tablet and play videos in the background, all for $9.99 a month… YouTube Music is designed to make discovering, watching and listening to music easier than ever. Any song or artist you choose on YouTube Music will start you on a personal journey through one of the richest music catalogs; just sign in, tap a track you love, and see where your music takes you. And as a special bonus—YouTube Red works with Google Play Music, so subscribe to one and automatically get access to the other.”
17. Deezer retreats (October 28)
Deezer abandons its plans to go public. According to the Wall Street Journal, the chairman of the company’s board blamed “market conditions.” Pandora shares dropped rapidly only a week before Deezer’s announcement.
18. Rdio gets bought out (November 16)
Rdio announces that it’s bankrupt. Pandora strikes again: the streaming service says it will purchase Rdio’s remaining assets.
19. Apple does some housekeeping (November 30)
With Apple Music in full swing, Apple shutters Beats Music, originally co-founded by Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine. According to the Beats website, “Your subscription will be cancelled, but you can move your picks and preferences over to Apple Music right now. All the pros that curated music for you are still crafting more amazing experiences. Plus, on Apple Music, you’ll get even better recommendations based on music you already listen to and love, 24/7 global radio with Beats 1, exciting material from your favorite artist, and more.”