Will paid-for music streaming services win the hearts of Irish music lovers?

10 May 2012

Online music streaming is all over the news this week, so we talked to Mark Foster, Deezer’s MD for the UK and Ireland, to see what all the fuss is about and ask why some services have ignored the Irish market.

With SoundCloud reaching 150m users and announcing its latest iteration, SoundCloud Next, earlier this week, and the UK’s streaming chart launching next Monday, it seems that online music streaming is something worth talking about.

Deezer’s MD for the UK and Ireland, Mark Foster, has been working in the music industry since the eighties and seen its transition from hard copy to digital distribution. In 2011, after a long history with Warner Music, he was asked to spearhead the UK and Ireland launches of French-based streaming subscription service, Deezer.

So, what’s the draw for music streaming and why is it seeing such a surge in popularity? “A streaming service such as Deezer allows people to discover, play, compile and share music legally, safely, in high quality and without needing to be a techie,” Foster explains. “Our strong editorial approach helps people find new music they wouldn’t necessarily hear about elsewhere, with no risk. They are paying the same affordable subscription fee whether they listen to one track a month or 10,000.”

Music services worth paying for

Though online music distribution has had its reputation dragged through the mud by piracy, the growth of subscriptions to legal music-sharing sites are encouraging, showing that users are willing to pay for music, they just need to find a service that offers them something worth paying for.

One of Deezer’s unique features is its strong editorial slant, which provides music recommendations from real music fans. “We have always placed massive importance on having real people, who go to a lot of gigs and listen to a lot of music, making personalised recommendations every week across 12 genres,” says Foster. “This makes the whole Deezer experience more accessible and more personal. Some other streaming services are more technical, more like databases of music – great if you know what you want to listen to, but intimidating if you don’t really feel you know what’s currently hot or might suit your tastes.”

The first online music streaming chart

Deezer opened for business in the UK in September 2011, reaching our shores in December. So far, the service has 1.5m subscribers and ten times as many tracks. It is the first music streaming service that doesn’t rely on software downloads and, as a streaming-only brand, Foster welcomes the introduction of an online music streaming chart in the UK.

“I think it’s a great idea. It brings streaming into the mainstream and reflects the level of adoption and acceptability it increasingly has with the general public and the way large numbers of people now like to consume their music,” says Foster.

The official weekly chart will rank the top 100 plays from platforms such as Deezer, Spotify, We7, Napster, Zune and ChartsNow. The first of its kind, the results from this chart show the differing music tastes of streamers compared to other music consumers. Ed Sheeran has come out on top as 2012’s most streamed artist so far, while album sales machine Adele doesn’t even make the top 10.

“It’s interesting how differently certain artists perform on the streaming chart, where tracks tend to have a longer ‘burn’ than the short-term singles chart, and where multiple tracks from one artists – Ed Sheeran and David Guetta for example – can stay on the charts at the same time, which is good for album longevity,” says Foster. “On the traditional singles chart, shelf-life is shorter, and attention focuses from one track to the next very quickly.”

This kind of longevity could be a boon for new artists marketing themselves online, as Sheeran himself commented to The Telegraph, “Streaming services and online in general have always been an important way for me to get music out to my fans. A new official streaming chart that recognises another way of enjoying music can only be a good thing.”

A disruptive force, or an asset to the industry?

With its first official chart coming out on Monday, and the praise of musicians riding high in the business, online music streaming is clearly a key component to the music industry and not the disruptive element it may initially appear to be.

The music industry is now seeing a growth in revenues from digital music, particularly streaming services, which is beginning to reverse the 10-year decline in physical sales. “There was some uncertainty at first about whether digital music in general and streaming in particular might cannibalise other formats, such as physical,” says Foster. “But the majors’ own research, as they have publicly stated recently, has shown this is not the case, but that all of these models can coexist, and, in fact, streaming is providing substantial incremental revenue.”

Ireland’s untapped music market

While there is revenue to be gained from music streaming, the lack of services in Ireland mean this is a largely untapped market. “The market in Ireland is in its infancy, but there’s huge potential,” says Foster. “Some companies have tried to launch a streaming service and got it wrong; some big streaming brands haven’t even bothered to come here, which, in my opinion, is a massive opportunity missed.”

It’s no secret that Irish people are big music lovers, which makes Foster excited about Deezer’s prospects here. “Though it’s a small population, the level of engagement with music – especially live music – is disproportionately high compared to many other countries,” he says, noting his intentions to pay the Irish market the respect it deserves with sensible, easy-to-try offers and lots of cool events and promotions.

“We’ve had tremendous support from the music companies here, and we are also talking to some potentially major distribution partners here, so watch this space!”

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.