Shake it off, Spotify


By now, we have all noticed the lack of Taylor Swift’s music on Spotify. Fearless, Speak Now, and Red have all disappeared from the homework-helper music app Spotify, not to mention that her newest album, 1989, never appeared at all. This has unsurprisingly caused a considerable amount of angst amongst teenagers; how we’ll ever survive the blank space “Shake it Off” left on Spotify’s Top 100, we’ll never know. Had we never had access to free streaming, this expectation would never have bothered us. But now that we have to buy the album rather than simply being able to just press play on Spotify, we’re outraged. Even Daniel Ek, the CEO and co-founder of Spotify, is surprised and has stated that he is continuing to work on convincing Swift’s management to reverse its decision. Swift has continued to reject him, following in the footsteps of Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and Thom Yorke. While it seems counterintuitive that Swift is barring the popularity of her music by preventing free and easy access to it, Swift’s decision to remove her music from Spotify may ultimately be a smart move for both her and the entire music industry.

The way music is distributed now is favorable for the listener, but, in many cases, harmful for the artist. Music is being devalued. It’s not that nobody cares about music; rather, it has become so easy to share it for free that almost no one cares enough to pay for it. While artists and their support teams are working hard to produce music, few people are actually supporting them by purchasing the tracks and albums, as shown by the declining amount of album sales. In the first half of 2014, only 62.9 million CDs were sold, which was less than half of the sales in the same six month period in 2009, which amounted to 136.4 million CD’s sold. Unfortunately, people who legitimately purchase music are far outnumbered by the many others who do not. But with Spotify, the artists are even paid for each play! After all, there are ads every so often. Certainly this can’t be bad, right?

Sadly, this isn’t true. While Spotify hopes that it can gain subscriptions from listeners and give royalties to the artists by providing an experience superior to piracy, the actual payout per stream is extremely low. In fact, the average artist earns as little as $0.007 per stream- even an immensely popular artist like Taylor Swift only received $496,044 from domestic streams in a 12-month period. This payout, which seems to be a decent amount of money, quickly evaporates when it is divided among the employees who work for her label under the production, manufacture, distribution, marketing, promotion, and legal departments. In the advent of piracy and free streaming, album sales have steadily declined. It’s not just the artists that are hurting, but the entire industry.

Even though her earnings from Spotify are negligible, this certainly does not mean that major artists like Taylor Swift are poor. In fact, Swift still makes the majority of her money from tours with her most recent one grossing over $150 million. And with her removal of albums from Spotify, 1989 has become the best-selling album since 2002. But we need to understand where she’s coming from. A large part of this decision is indeed about the money, but she also wants people to start valuing music more. What kind of perception does it give off when no one pays for music? Why is it that something that took so much work to create becomes suddenly devoid of worth when it is released? When music is pirated or simply just streamed on Spotify, artists are at a loss.

Even so, some view the hard work and effort as worth it, even if they don’t get what they fully deserve. Indeed, some artists believe that the exposure gained from featuring their music on Spotify far outweighs the monetary downsides. Dave Grohl from Foo Fighters states that he doesn’t care about the amount people pay for his music as long as people have it, believing that if people have your music, “people will listen to your music. And then go play a show. If they like hearing your music, they’ll go to the show.”

As album sales continue their downward trend, the debate the music industry is facing will continue to be relevant. It’s hard to say what will end up happening in this battle between Spotify and the few artists who are pulling (and can afford to pull) their music off the application, but the benefits and hindrances of having music on the program are clear. While I love Spotify and its magical abilities to let me finish homework, its business model is undoubtedly problematic. Next time I hear a song or an album I really enjoy, I’ll be sure to support the artist and all who collaborate with them to show that I truly value their hard work because I know I would want people to do the same for mine.

Featured image from techcrunch.com

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