Spotify (Again) – Artists Still Fighting the Wrong Battle

14th November 2014 5 comments


I swore I wasn’t going to write anything about this. I promised myself and my mental well-being that I wasn’t going to write anymore about this, yet here I am…writing again about Spotify. Same song, slightly different tune. We all know Taylor Swift pulled her catalog from the streaming service and since then, it’s all the music industry can
talk/fight/scream/argue about. My philosophy on the music industry is pretty simple: To my very core I believe artists should have control over their work and not only be treated as a vital part of the music ecosystem, but be acknowledged as the sole reason such a thing exists at all. I’ve written about the failings of Spotify more times than I wish to think about and probably more times than I can even recall at this point. Here are a few things to consider with respect to streaming overall and the Taylor Swift situation:

1) Streaming as a technology and delivery method for fans to consume music is not going to go away. It isn’t. Whining on social media or shouting from megaphones on Mt. Rushmore isn’t going to make Daniel Ek suddenly say “Wow, let’s shut down this technology. These Twitter tirades have made me rethink a business structure I’ve invested countless hours and dollars in and firmly believe in. I’ll announce the shut down of Spotify at once.” It’s not going to happen. Ever. Change your approach to a productive one. If you really hate Spotify, fine, I understand, but the way most artists are going about their disdain isn’t going to accomplish anything. Thom Yorke and Nigel Godrich infamously disapproved of Spotify so do you know what they did? They not only pulled the Atoms for Peace catalog from the service but they sought out alternatives and released the latest Thom Yorke solo record via an exclusive deal with BitTorrent. At $6 per download for the entire album, Yorke not only accomplished his mission of “bypassing the self-elected gatekeepers,” but sold over 1 million copies of the record in a week (and that’s not including vinyl purchases). Not only did they avoid streaming, they avoided traditional retail, marketing, PR, and all of the insanity included therein. If you don’t like the status quo, it isn’t enough to complain about it, you must also be proactive in finding alternative solutions.

2) Some artists don’t like Spotify, and I dislike many of their practices myself. I’ve recently begun to feel like something of a pro-Spotify cheerleader simply because I defend Spotify when people have the facts wrong…and people usually have the facts wrong. Yes, Spotify does pay fractions of a penny per play, no one is disputing that. The reason artists usually get such relatively small payouts vs streams has more to do with the gigantic, flaming, neon elephant in the room that far too few speak of: NDAs. Non-disclosure agreements are a HUGE part of this equation which, apart from the MMF and FAC in the UK, not many people have made it a point to regularly discuss. It’s been working out brilliantly for labels who get a sizable (and unknown) payout from streaming companies (Spotify is usually the one that takes the heat and gets name-checked) for use of their catalog. The artists never know how much this amount is, have no legal way of obtaining this information, and don’t see any of the money. Additionally, there’s no way to know how these rates translate from label to label. No one knows if indie labels are treated the same as majors, is there an equation or structure to any of the numbers involved or is it all ambiguous and variable from artist to artist and label to label? No one knows. Why aren’t artists screaming about THIS? With respect to publishing, songwriters aren’t in a much better position. Payouts are based on antiquated technology and none of this accounts for those who write songs. There is different money allocated to those who write the song and those who perform the song. Why aren’t songwriters raising holy hell with their PROs? Many songwriters also perform, many don’t. Either way, why aren’t these people hitting out about the much-needed necessary changes to the publishing system and how it ties in to new technology? PROs are supposed to represent their career, their work, and their interests. Not getting songwriters the most payment for their work isn’t representing their interests, and it’s barely representing their career in this day and age.

3) While it’s wonderful that Ms. Swift determined that pulling her catalog from Spotify was the best decision for her, there are some inconsistencies that make it seem as though more is at play than a major artist taking a stand against and eeeeevil tech company. While she raised some absolutely valid concerns about it all seeming a bit like an experiment (what isn’t, really?) and Scott Borchetta, owner of her label Big Machine, stating that having the new Taylor Swift record available for ‘free‘ via Spotify does a disservice to those who bought the record. That’s a valid enough point, especially for a brand new record, but I still remain slightly suspicious about it all. A few things worth mentioning are that YouTube’s payouts are even worse than Spotify’s and Swift’s material remains there. Another being that Big Machine is up for sale and, as I’ve said on Twitter all week, removing their top artist from Spotify may simply be a way of cleaning house and getting things in order so that a potential buyer may work with Swift in making those decisions moving forward. While I don’t doubt that Taylor Swift has a lot of input about her career, her family has a lot to gain if Big Machine sells for a high price and a lot to lose if it doesn’t as her parents own a lot of stake in the label. It’s also somewhat interesting that all of a sudden Ms. Swift is talking an awful lot about Beats Music and what a great platform it is. Since their acquisition by Apple, everyone has been waiting to see what would become of Beats Music and so far it’s been absolutely nothing. To truly become a viable contender for Spotify, or even am radio, they’ll need to make a big move with a major artist. Perhaps Taylor Swift is that artist? Or perhaps she just happens to be the only person who really does like Beats Music. I guess we’ll see. No disrespect intended toward Taylor Swift at all, I actually adore her, but again, even if her issue is very simply that she doesn’t like Spotify, she’s fighting it the wrong way, too.

4) Streaming is not going to go anywhere, at least not anytime soon, and given it’s ease of use and global reach, it’s a great tool for discovery. I suppose I always look at streaming as a replacement for radio rather than purchasing music. I understand that some people don’t buy music if they can listen to it via a streaming service but there are also a great many people who use Spotify, et al to discover new music because you can’t do that on the radio any more. Those people then buy artist’s records, go to their concerts, buy their merch, and support their career.

It’s a complicated issue with no simple solution but it seems artists may be better off working together to incite change within the label and publishing systems that would then impact how other industries operate. Or complain on Facebook, that’s bound to bring about change, as well.

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