Streaming hits musicians hard – but opens listeners to a whole new world of songs, says Westlife hitmaker

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The SCOTS are the biggest music broadcasters in Britain, it has been revealed, with more than half the country listening to their favorite artists online.

Listening to music on digital services like Spotify and Apple Music has become as popular as watching live radio in Scotland.

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The Scots are the UK’s biggest streamers
John McLaughlin discovered new music through streaming

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John McLaughlin discovered new music through streaming

A total of 56 per cent of Scots now stream, compared to a national average of 47 per cent, with numbers skyrocketing during the lockdown when Scottish singer Lewis Capaldi’s debut album Divinely Uninspired To A Hellish Extent became the most listened to album in the UK.

But feature editor MATT BENDORIS asks record producer and songwriter John McLaughlin and music expert Jim Gellaty if digital pay-per-view listeners are losing the whole album experience?


MUSIC lovers may think most pop songs today sound like they’re written by robots and selected by algorithms – but hitmaker John McLaughlin thinks streaming services can open your ears to new ones stars.

The Scottish record producer was playing an album by American indie country singer Angaleena Presley when Spotify then recommended the works of American folk duo Shovel & Rope.

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John recalls: “They blew my mind. I have now gone to see Shovel & Rope live several times and purchased all of their vinyl records.

“This is where streaming services can introduce you to new acts, because I wouldn’t have discovered them without the Spotify recommendation.”

However, that’s where John – who also fronts his own band Johnny Mac and the Faithful – ends his praise for the streaming giants, which also include Apple and Amazon Music Unlimited.

He adds: “Their payments for artists are shameful – next to nothing.

“What they can do is help grow your brand, sell you more tickets and merchandise. This is where streaming helps.

But the 57-year-old believes the rise of streamers is leading to a two-tier system, with artists who are now only known for their single hits alongside album-selling artists.

He explains, “A lot of album artists say their sales suffer from streaming because you bring in these single song artists who are only interested in having you listen to their single hit.”

John knows all about it having penned Westlife’s number one Queen Of My Heart in 2001 and created rock sensations Busted – which topped the charts four times.

He adds, “I’ve done both, because I’ve written hit singles when you specifically target a single buyer audience.

“But longevity artists can lose out to streaming because people won’t listen to their whole album.”

Broadcaster Jim Gellatly agrees. He says, “Streaming has certainly emphasized individual tracks rather than collections.

“It probably changed the way some artists approach their music, which is a shame, but it gave EPs a bigger impact.

“An artist releases one track at a time from an EP and that gives it a longer shelf life. So there are no bargains in the digital world.”

The two also sing from the same anthem sheet when it comes to the experience of playing an entire album that can lead to “love stories” with your favorite artists.

John, who grew up in the tough neighborhood of Milton in Glasgow, recalls: “The problem with streaming is that there’s nothing physical about it.

“I still remember receiving The Clash’s debut album and devouring the liner notes and studying the artwork while listening to the tracks in order.”

Jim adds, “I like the convenience of streaming and the instant accessibility.

“But with the new releases, there’s not that magic of buying it, taking the shrink wrap off, and putting it on the turntable.”

John continues: “The power of a physical album should not be underestimated.

“When I first played Born in the USA by Bruce Springsteen, those American working class songs spoke to me in the Milton and that inspired me.

“You’re not going to be inspired or invested by a piece randomly played to you by an algorium.”

But John thinks there is hope because, although Lewis Capaldi was the most streamed artist in the UK last year – with over 800 million downloads – his album also topped the charts at the same time.

He says, “Streaming can also introduce you to amazing album artists like Gerry Cinnamon.

“People really buy him and want to hear what his songs have to say and buy his albums for the artwork, like they used to.

“The likes of Spotify can also open you up to a much wider audience than you could ever reach by just playing Top of the Pops once.

“Artists will therefore have to live with their time and use it to grow. The problem is to separate the wheat from the chaff.

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Jim adds, “It’s easier than ever for a new artist to have their music available, but in turn there’s more music.

“Without suggestions or recommendations, it can be very difficult to stand out from other artists.”

But John insists, “But you can find gems in streaming recommendations, just like me.”

Jim Gellatly says there's nothing like opening a new album

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Jim Gellatly says there’s nothing like opening a new album
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