Different Methods of Acquiring Music and Why We Use Them

I listen to music a lot, probably too much sometimes, in order to listen to all the music that I do I employ various methods. At home I may stream music from sites such as PandoraSpotify or even Youtube, on the go I listen to digital copies of music that I’ve brought or downloaded on my phone and in my car I have a collection of CDs that I listen to on the road. I often see articles claiming CD sales are decreasing despite Vinyl sales increasing, and that file sharing is an issue that music streaming will fix the file sharing issue.


Lauched in 2008, Spotify is a browser based and downloadable music streaming services with social media capabilities. While Spotify is currently based in London, it has over 10 million payed subscribers worldwide. Music streaming services such as Spotify provide users with a platform to listen to music for free without specifically ‘downloading’ a digital copy. Spotify does allow users to download playlists as digital copies but for a subscription fee and with legal and digital restrictions on what can be done with the files. Spotify also allows users to share playlists with friends and has Facebook interconnectivity that producers can use as a marketing platform and users can use to discover new music.

Spotify vs File Sharing

There are various studies that streaming is deterring downloads from file sharing sites and others that claim there is no change. File sharing is not illegal and as long as it stays within the law, it is not harming anyone. The issues surrounding file sharing lie in the fact that it is done illegally around the world and on a large scale. The Recording Industry of America states that  piracy (illegal file sharing) is at a cost of 12.5 billion to the American economy. Piracy is a particular issue in Australia as our remote location leaves us with little other options to obtain foreign media. The idea that music streaming will prevent piracy stems from the fact that streaming music is also freely accessible and free to use but is safer and more controlled from a music labels point of view. This is a narrow view of the difference between streaming and file sharing taking a media effects approach that doesn’t consider an audiences context as to why they use the service they do to acquire their music.

About The Survey

Doing research on streaming vs file sharing I found there was a large focus on numbers such as number of downloads or paid subscribers and the cost and revenue of each service but overall, it was quite inconclusive if the rise of streaming services had any substantial impact on file sharing. In wondering why this was so, I asked myself, “In what contexts are users using each service and listening to music, and why does that impact on what users are doing?”. To this I created a survey on the site surveymonkey.com (The survey is here) that consisted of 10 questions asking responders about their frequency of use for each service, including file sharing, streaming, purchasing digital formats and purchasing physical formats, the reason that each service is useful or not to them and finally, if streaming curbs their file sharing, why or why not. The survey was distributed through various people’s Facebook feed and a few music forums.

Survey Results

Untitled Infographic

After 6 days of being live, the survey received 18 responses (Much less than expected but nevertheless there was still a variety of responses among the 18). As detailed in the above infograph, there is an even spread in responses who stream music online with reasons revolving around the ability to try music freely but bandwidth restrictions increase the cost of access to streaming services. This suggests that music streaming services are popular but the ability to save digital copies of music is the turning point. File sharing services aren’t particularly popular but when it is used, it’s used frequently, responses showed this was due to zero cost restrictions. While some responses noted that streaming services are made less desirable by ads it was overshadowed by cost concerns. Other mentionable points where that the results showed purchasing music in any format to be particularly unpopular, further supporting the suggestion that cost barriers are a strong influence in responses acquiring music. Answers to the question concerning streaming vs file sharing were unsurprisingly even, 54% of responses preferred streaming. Ultimately, directly purchasing music in any format is old news, consumers are looking for cheaper access all round. Market competition is now between streaming and file sharing. Some companies are embracing this, video streaming site Netflix is using piracy as market research in order to determine what to feature. Instead of fighting it, the music industry could learn to ‘use’ file sharing to it’s advantage.

Extra Research

As Catalano states in her article on music piracy, “Piracy is the lightning rod of the record business. Is used to explain declining sales, demonize file-sharing or, in some cases, lauded as a means to an end in that piracy leads to more record purchasing” (Catalano, 2013), groups such as the Recording Industry Association of America take a media effects approach to understanding file sharing and piracy by arguing that if consumers are getting their music for free, then they are stealing and that is harming the music industry. In fact, its much more complicated than that.

In this video Laci Green talks about how simply outlawing piracy is not going to prevent it. If we are to address piracy concerns that may be affecting artists and labels we need to make a smarter approach then getting rid of piracy, the internet is an innovative platform at the forefront of marketing and trend setting, utilising smart marketing and research tactics, other music providers may very well make themselves a great advantage.


Dredge, S 2013, ‘Is streaming music cannibalising piracy? Spotify Dutch study says Ja’, Musically, 17 July, viewed, 2 November 2014, <http://musically.com/2013/07/17/is-streaming-cannibalising-piracy-spotify-dutch-study-says-ja/&gt;

Adegoke, Y 2014, ‘Spotify now has 10 million paid subscribers, 3 million in the US’, Billboard, 21 May, viewed 2 November 2014, <http://www.billboard.com/biz/articles/news/digital-and-mobile/6092226/spotify-now-has-10-million-paid-subscribers-3-million&gt;

2014, Who music theft hurts, Recording industry association of America, viewed 2 November 2014, <http://www.riaa.com/physicalpiracy.php?content_selector=piracy_details_online&gt;

2013, Why there’s no stopping illegal downloading, online video, 24 August, DNews, viewed 2 November 2014, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbfL9hVVhK0&gt;

Catalano, M 2013, ‘Music piracy; major studie conflicted over recording industry impact’, Forbes, blog, 25 March, viewed 2 November 2014, <http://www.forbes.com/sites/michelecatalano/2013/03/25/music-piracy-major-studies-conflicted-over-recording-industry-impact/&gt;

Masnick M, 2012, Dear RIAA: Pirates buy more. full stop. deal with it, Techdirt, blog, 27 November, viewed 2 November, <https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20121126/00590921141/dear-riaa-pirates-buy-more-full-stop-deal-with-it.shtml&gt;

Masnick M, 2013, Netflix Uses Piracy As Market Research, Isn’t Afraid Of It Because It Knows It Can Offer A Better Service, Techdirt, blog, 16 September, viewed 2 November, <https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130914/22561324519/netflix-uses-piracy-as-market-research-isnt-afraid-it-because-it-knows-it-can-offer-better-service.shtml&gt;


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