From a DJ perspective things have got increasingly complicated lately, as most DJs play at least a degree of music which is not owned by them. And I don’t mean owning the records, mp3s or wavs! Yup, on 95% of the streaming platforms it is illegal to play music that you don’t own rights too, so it’s been a minefield trying to avoid stream interruptions and takedowns.
At the start of the pandemic, DJs quickly flocked to all of the regular platforms, and within days nearly everyone was live in the mix. But it quickly became apparent that it was gonna be a tricky journey. Those of us who had streamed live for years knew this anyway, and many of us can remember that golden moment when the internet didn’t really care what we played.
When Facebook first introduced its live service about six years ago, it actively encouraged DJs and pretty much everyone else to go live. Any live videos were pushed to the top of your friends’ feed and the algorithm served to promote this new live service.
For a few weeks, copyright wasn’t even a thing, and my early DJ live broadcasts got over a 1,000 viewers regularly. Soon, the record companies clamped down, and it was within their rights too, as they owned the music most DJs were playing. Automated software developed quicker and quicker over the last few years, and now, if you are playing a big track owned by a big label, chances are your stream will be muted or taken down eventually.
There are ways around it. You can turn over tracks quickly and only play short sections, hip-hop style, but it’s still a risk and for many DJs not an ideal approach. You can pitch up or down the music or play only edits or remixes etc, but again, this won’t suit all. You can play music that is 100% underground and independent and most likely get away with things, and this is handy for many DJs. If you play music such as hip-hop or r&b it’s likely that even if you stick to indie labels, some of them will be connected to bigger labels, and the software will detect that you are technically still in the wrong.
It’s a minefield only made worse by the fact that none of the platforms apart from Mixcloud, have bothered doing any deals with the record industry, so they have little comeback when the labels step in. The record industry has always been slow to react to the internet but streaming is the number one game in town for many years and every cent counts to them these days. I was one of the first DJs to use gaming platform Twitch for live streaming in March, and for a while seemed to exist in a vacuum where no takedowns meant DJs could play freely, but that’s changed now too. The industry is circling, and Twitch, despite being owned by the very rich Amazon, has nothing in place to stop them.
Mixcloud is an independent company who worked hard to not only platform DJ culture over the years, but who played the long game regarding streaming too. They were working on a licensed platform long before the pandemic, and rushed it out in the end, but now the seem best placed to be the only show in town for a while. They are streaming live gigs and shows, and it’s all legit. I’m hoping they can increase their influence and make it slightly more audience friendly, but at the moment it’s where I’m streaming most.
Back in the day major music labels used actively encourage DJs such as myself to play their music on pirate radio and in clubs, and they knew that even putting it on mixtapes that were sold on the streets, they would get a kickback.
This was the way music was promoted and there was an unwritten alliance between the big guns and the small DJs who were very influential in their community and towns and cities. This is the backbone of how hip-hop exploded from the street corners to the board rooms over the years. Everybody won. But as the industry struggles for every cent, and as Spotify and consumers pay so little, the game has changed. Legal streaming is after all, an artist-friendly model, and it’s the way forward.