Behind the music industry: Streaming stories you should know before watching the Grammys

Originally posted via VentureBeat

If you watch the Grammys tonight, you’re in for a whirlwind look at the outstanding achievements of artists, writers, and producers over the last year. One thing you won’t see, however, is the turmoil behind the scenes that marked one of the most disruptive years in the music industry’s history.

The rise of streaming services in 2014 led to more diverse options for consumers as well as high-profile consolidations and partnerships within the industry. Streaming giants like Pandora and Spotify found themselves in hand-to-hand combat for listeners’ ears with both traditional radio and each other. And amidst this commotion, artists wreaked havoc on publishers and listeners while trying to find their place in the new digital ecosystem.

In honor of the Grammys tonight, we’ve created the Streamys – an attempt to sum up everything you need to know about the biggest music streaming stories of the last year into just four awards. Without further ado, here are your 2015 Streamy Nominees:

Artist Controversy of the Year

Streamy Nominees:

The Turtles – They may have been popular in the ’60s, but the Turtles were back in the spotlight this year after winning a high-profile case against Sirius XM over copyright infringement. The satellite radio provider failed to pay royalties on recordings made before 1972 – fees that aren’t mandated under federal law but that are under state laws. The floodgates are open, so stay tuned for similar rulings as major record companies challenge services like Sirius XM and Pandora.

Taylor Swift – In arguably her most public breakup yet, Swift pulled her music from Spotify, saying that the popular streaming service is underpaying artists and devaluing music. Other music stars like Jason Aldean and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke followed suit, while Spotify shot back saying that it pays nearly 70% of revenues back to the music community.

U2 – Props to U2 for trying something new, giving free copies of its “Songs of Innocence” album to Apple customers in one of the biggest music giveaways in history. Unfortunately, the death was in the distribution: The album was forced onto the devices of 500 million iTunes users, ultimately costing Apple more than $100 million in damages.

Winner: Taylor Swift. The girl is single-handedly taking on major tech companies and making it more difficult for fans to access music, and yet her latest album reached record sales. How many more artists will join the Swift revolution?

Best New Way to Listen to Music

Streamy Nominees:

In-Car Integrations – Commute time represents a big chunk of our listening time, so it’s no wonder music publishers are battling for in-car domination. CDs are virtually out, but satellite and streaming radio are very much in, as everyone from Sirius XM, to Pandora, Spotify, iHeartRadio, and more are in a land grab to dominate in-car listening through integrations with auto makers. These began hitting the market with 2014 car models, but expect even more integrations moving forward.

Smartwatches – The smartwatch market is in its infancy, but Apple’s plan to launch the Apple Watch in 2015 has added hype around wearables. Music listening will be a big part of the activity on these new mobile devices, so stay tuned for big changes in how we listen to music.

Internet of Things – When it comes down to it, music is finding ways to follow us through our lives; whether on computers, phones, cars, smartwatches, gaming systems, refrigerators, or any other objects connected to the Internet of things.

Winner: Internet of things. Technology has evolved to the point where music is no longer limited by equipment; its limitations are more tied to rules around content ownership and rights. It will be exciting to see where music pops up next.

Best Up-and-Coming Service

Streamy Nominees:

NPR – With new updates rolled out last year, such as voice controlled ads that let listeners “download now” or “learn more” about advertisers just by saying so out loud, NPR’s streaming service has become coolly interactive. The availability of on demand content such as podcasts is also bringing the syndicator’s content to a broader, not to mention younger, audience.

Slacker – Punting on the algorithm-based programming used by many services, Slacker is banking on stations curated by actual DJs and musicians. With a redesign and overhaul in late 2014, the company introduced well-known media partners such as Nerdist Industries and web video star Tyler Oakley to its list of curators, revealing plans to open its platform to all curators in a Pinterest-like approach to radio.

Rdio – This pureplay streaming service seems to be everywhere these days, growing partnerships and integrations like it’s going out of style. Rdio has added 24 markets to its roster, now reaching a total of 85 countries and territories as it continues to expand across the Caribbean, Central America, and Asia Pacific.

Xbox Music – Microsoft announced last year that OneDrive would be integrated into its Xbox Music player, allowing for streaming of personal music collections from the cloud. As Microsoft looks to couple this capability with social sharing in 2015, we could see Xbox Music emerge as a streaming force to be reckoned with.

Winner: NPR. This isn’t your parents’ public radio, and NPR wants to be sure that millennials know it. But while we should be looking forward to NPR blossoming in 2015, it is important to recognize the whole crop of new players that are beginning to take advantage of the freshly-tilled streaming soil. Spotify’s Sony PlayStation offering and Jay Z’s potential $56 million purchase of Swedish streaming company Aspiro are just two of the services already on our radar already this year.

Streaming Service of the Year

Streamy Nominees:

Pandora – You can’t have a conversation about music streaming without mentioning the godfather of the industry in the U.S.: Pandora. While its growth in active listeners slowed down a bit in 2014, the company has positioned itself to dominate in-car and mobile listening; two major areas of focus for all streaming services.

Spotify – Spotify operates in over 50 countries and is growing its listeners at a healthy rate worldwide. With this growth, however, it has essentially become the scapegoat for issues such as music royalties (see Taylor Swift), which tarnishes an otherwise rosy outlook.

iHeartRadio – Not only does iHeart have its own televised streaming music awards show and music festival, parent company Clear Channel rebranded itself as iHeartMedia in 2014; a dramatic hat tip to its investment in digital and streaming music moving forward. The one question is, will a growth in subscribers follow this grand undertaking?

Apple/Beats – Apple acquired Dr. Dre’s Beats Music in May for a whopping $3 billion, but its plans for the service are still unclear. Apple has integrated the service into Apple TV and promotes it in the iTunes store but will likely integrate it into iTunes as well. Beats CEO Jimmy Iovine is also reportedly investigating exclusive album releases for the service.

Winner: You. That’s right, I’m pulling an Audible on this one (pun intended). You, the listener, are truly the biggest winner this year. You can listen to what you want when you want (Spotify), program your own station (Pandora), listen to radio without a radio (iHeart), and Apple/Beats are making the whole thing really cool and elegantly designed. It’s a great time to be a listener.