It’s possible that the biggest band of all time could finally be coming around to Spotify. Anonymous sources told Billboard and Hits Daily Double last week that the Beatles could be landing on streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music as soon as this week, just in time for Christmas.
The British band’s migration to streaming services would mark a kind of milestone. Despite the fact that they were in many ways defined by their musical experiments, the band has been famously resistant to technological change. Fab Four stakeholders kept the group's music off the iTunes Store for years, and while many of the other legacy artists that disliked iTunes eventually licensed their records to Spotify et al., the Beatles have kept their music off. (Due to a copyright quirk, the band is unable to keep its music off streaming radio services like Pandora.)
The Beatles’ absence from services like Spotify has been acutely felt. Thousands of people have called for them to join. So why have they changed their minds? Here are three facts that provide a possible explanation.
Streaming Can’t Be Ignored Anymore
By far the biggest story of the music industry in 2015 was the growth of streaming music revenue for record labels. In the second quarter of 2015, Warner Music Group became the first major record label to announce that the revenues it earned from streams surpassed the revenue it earned from download sales.
While Warner doesn’t control the Beatles recorded music catalog – Universal Music Group does – that line item on WMG’s earnings report represented a milestone for the major labels, which have always earned the lion’s share of their money by selling copies of albums to consumers. As that becomes a thing of the past, the Beatles will want to make sure they are where their next generation of fans are.
One Last Holiday Hurrah
When it comes to making a switch like this, timing is important, and plenty of streaming services, which have been trying to round up extra subscribers during the holiday season, probably desperately wanted the Beatles to make this switch around Black Friday, if not sooner.
Universal Music, however, almost certainly wanted the exact opposite: one last chance to celebrate the holiday season with people buying Beatles CDs or MP3s. Even though the Fab Four haven’t released any recordings this year, they are still one of the top album-selling artists of 2015.
In fact, during the all-important holiday season, which historically has driven up to 40 percent of sales revenues, the Beatles have sold more albums than Taylor Swift, the Weeknd and One Direction, according to BuzzAngle Music. The group ranks 12th in album sales in December.
They are also going to have to keep up with the times. According to research conducted by Vevo, the music video giant co-owned by two of the world's three largest record labels, 87 percent of millennials stream music in one way or another. And if the Beatles want to appeal to the next generation of fans, they're going to need to be where those fans are.
The Beatles Are A Populist Enterprise
Unlike contemporary artists like Taylor Swift or Prince, who have kept portions of their catalogs off some services and not others, the Beatles at this point exist as an institution that transcends any streaming music turf war. It would be beneath the Beatles to become a Tidal exclusive, or an Apple Music exclusive, or anybody’s, for that matter.
Their music, as countless people have said, is timeless, and will continue to matter far after the streaming war concludes. What is not yet clear, however, is how much the Beatles' vaunted catalog will be worth to UMG in a world where fewer and fewer people buy albums.