Industry analyst Mark Mulligan’s upcoming book ‘Meltdown’ aims to use the lessons from digital music’s past to make its future more profitable for artists, rightsholders and digital services alike.

Now he’s published an excerpt outlining one of its proposals: streaming artist subscriptions. “The introduction of artist subscriptions within existing streaming services, with users paying a small monthly fee – say $/€1 – for a month’s worth of artist content,” as he puts it.

The idea being that for each artist someone subscribes to, they get their entire back catalogue with editorial features like musical influences and making-of-the-album content; exclusive and rare tracks (“this might require some rarer content being withdrawn from the main service”); acoustic sessions, gig livestreams and music videos; and non-music content like photo shoots, artwork, interviews, backstage footage and webchats.

“It is crucial that artists streaming subscriptions are not simply a collection of playlists,” warns Mulligan, who describes these subscriptions as “app-like artist experiences” and suggests that they’ll help artists get more behind streaming as a model, while easing free users of these services into paid subscriptions.

Spotify seems closest to realising this goal in 2013 with its apps platform: all it’s lacking is a paywall structure and the ability for developers, labels and/or artists to charge for their apps on a subscription basis.

Deezer is moving in the artist-apps direction too, while it would not be surprising if Beats’ upcoming Daisy service were to explore something similar.

“Streaming subscriptions still have a long way to go before most doubts will be eased, but streaming artist subscriptions represent an opportunity to accelerate the process by simultaneously addressing concerns of sustainability, user experience and artist pay outs,” writes Mulligan.

We suspect that as soon as this year, we’ll see at least one service try to prove him right.

Update: Techdirt’s Mike Masnick popped up on Twitter to point out that he mooted a similar idea back in 2003: “You start to offer a ‘service’. You might call it a fan club, but that has connotations. Let’s call it a ‘subscription’ to the band…”

Perhaps the encouraging thing now is that streaming music services offer an additional way for fans to discover artists, and then discover the subscriptions that they offer, alongside Masnick’s (still-relevant) view that such subscriptions could be built up initially through touring.

One challenge here under Mulligan’s model: would artists have to pick a single streaming service to offer such subscriptions through, or could they be made available across several? What kind of data would they get on their subscribers too? It’s certainly a model with plenty of chewy discussion points.

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Stuart Dredge

Music Ally's Head of Insight

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