Spotify has been receiving a lot of attention these past couple of weeks. It is undoubtedly due to Taylor Swift (and soon after, but likely unrelated, Jason Aldean) and her decision to not only prevent her new album 1989 from being available on Spotify, but all five of her albums in addition to whatever else of hers was on Spotify. Now, if you go to her artist page on Spotify, all you see is some random singles featured on other publisher’s releases (namely her movie soundtrack singles, such as “Crazier” from Hannah Montana and “Safe And Sound” from The Hunger Games). Swift does claim to have a personal opinion on the matter, showing that it might not just be a lame move by Big Machine Records: “I’m not willing to contribute my life’s work to an experiment that I don’t feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists and creators of music.” OK, fine Taylor. You do you.
I did not find it fair to Spotify to report on Taylor Swift’s decisions without hearing some of their opinions, since they have been fighting to get her music back onto their streaming service. Then I came across this incredible blog post by Daniel Ek on the Spotify blog. Just because a star like Taylor Swift says that she doesn’t find Spotify to be cut out for her doesn’t mean that Spotify is a terrible service to all human beings who dream of monetizing their music. Ek is 100% correct in stating that, in the modern music industry, Spotify is a leader. Now that people know how to get music for free, they are less willing to buy music. But Spotify allows music lovers to listen to anything in the vast Spotify catalog for free, while still compensating the artist and his/her team. And hey, if they can get people to upgrade to Spotify premium, that’s a bonus that will allow them to grow as a company.
To summarize Ek’s post, if you don’t want to read the whole thing, he addresses three myths about Spotify, the first being the obvious debate: “If fans get to listen to music for free, then this is stealing from the artist because the artist can’t make any money off of free music.” Well, judging solely from the title of the blog post, $2 Billion and Counting, this statement is obviously false. Spotify has paid over two billion dollars to artists and labels since their inception in 2008. They are proud of this “freemium” model of giving consumers the option to pay, and being able to compensate the creators of the products they market.
The second myth addresses, “Ok, so artists get paid, but there’s no way they could make a living off of that!” Wrong again. Ek says that people will come up with numbers of plays that they think are big, and see how much an artist would make from that many plays on Spotify and scoff because it’s so embarrassingly small. For example, 500,000 plays sounds like a lot, but consider a U.S. radio station with 500,000 listeners. If that radio station played a song ONE time, and one time only, the artist would make a whopping zero dollars. Because who cares if it’s on the radio once? However, on Spotify, an artist who receives 500,000 plays would rake in $3,000-4,000. That’s incredible! Make that ten radio plays and you’ve got yourself 30-40 thousand dollars on one song; imagine if you have an entire album that’s just as good!
For the third and final myth, we play the blame game. “Spotify hurts music sales, both physical and download.” Ek points out that sales are indeed going down, but not necessarily due to Spotify; even in countries like Canada, where Spotify isn’t offered, artists are selling way fewer CDs and iTunes downloads. He also points out several artists who promoted their new albums on Spotify and still sold hundreds of thousands of copies (Ed Sheeran, Ariana Grande, Alt-J, Lana Del Ray). And of course it’s possible to be popular on both Spotify and top the sales charts, like Eminem and Calvin Harris have done in the past.
To bring it all back to TSwift, Ek mentions that Spotify isn’t the only service offering her music for free, if that’s what she’s worried about. Her penniless fans will see the loss on Spotify, then hop over to YouTube or GrooveShark and listen to her music. So if someone really thinks that Spotify is hurting their musical career, they better think twice.
BEX of Music 2 My Eyes, on air every Thursday at 5 PM