Why Does It Have To Be Either Spotify Or Taylor Swift? Why Are We Not Saying It's Her Label's Fault?


A photo posted by Taylor Swift (@taylorswift) on Oct 10, 2014 at 9:43am PDT


The internet has been up in arms all day. Why? Because Taylor Swift somewhat abruptly decided to pull her entire catalog from Suckify Spotify. It's a dramatic move considering streaming is supposed to save the music industry from piracy (and subsequent loss of album sales). It's an even bolder statement coming from the only person who has managed to scrape together a whopping 1.25 million album sales for 2014 so far, making her the only artist to do so for the year at this point.

Personally, I think it's a terrible move. I get it. We've heard time and time again that artists make little to no money from streaming. It's fractions of a penny per stream. When you actually look at the math, it's embarrassing that we have been praising streaming as our savior. You have to wonder though, who really is at fault here? Is it actually the streaming service, or is this another case of record labels being too greedy and them cutting artists out way too much? I get the feeling that we're all to quick to jump on the former and not the latter.

I can't believe I'm actually about to say this, but maybe we all should spend a second being nice to Taylor Swift and Spotify. It's not their fault. Well, it might be Swift's to an extent, but I'll get to that. Either way, especially in this case we should be throwing mad shade in Big Machine Label Group's direction, not her or Spotify's. We should also probably be upset that not much has changed from an overall industry standpoint to benefit musicians since streaming sevices came to town.

It's no secret that Taylor Swift thinks that music shouldn't be free. Last year she wrote an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal where she said, "It's my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album's price point is. I hope they don't underestimate themselves or undervalue their art." This is all well and good, TayTay. You most certainly are not wrong here, but maybe instead of insisting that the technology trying to work with you is to blame, maybe it's the folks you got in bed with when you knew full well that they are notorious for trying to pay your kind (artists) as little as possible for their work.

There are plenty of artists who are well aware that Spotify isn't all to blame here. Last November, Billy Bragg wrote a lengthy Facebook post where he had this very thought regarding labels and royalty payouts. "The problem with the business model for streaming is that most artists still have contracts from the analog age, when record companies did all the heavy lifting of physical production and distribution, so only paid artists 8%-15% royalties on average," he wrote."Those rates, carried over to the digital age, explain why artists are getting such paltry sums from Spotify. If the rates were really so bad, the rights holders - the major record companies - would be complaining. The fact that they're continuing to sign up means they must be making good money." He then goes on to explain that in Sweden that artists have already identified that it's not the streaming service that's at fault and that it's actually the labels wrongdoing. These artists have begun to take action to get better royalty rates that actually reflect the costs in digital production in distribution. 

So why isn't the same happening here? Why is it that instead the largest act of the year is instead doing the opposite and running into the arms of Big Machine Label Group, instead of taking a step back and trying to see what's actually happening here.

The fact of the matter is, streaming gives everyone access to ulimited possibilities of music to listen to. What Taylor Swift is doing is limiting how much of the world she can dominate, not to mention how much money she could be potentially be making. It has been said that whopping 25% of Spotify users have streamed Swift's songs and that her songs were on 20 million playlists. Call me crazy, but that's a pretty impressive amount of penetration within a userbase. It just doesn't make sense to run in the opposite direction of that. 

Although I have many opinions about the way in which Spotify's offerings are available for the masses, I couldn't agree more with Billy Bragg in that same Facebook post when he wrote, "I've long felt that artists railing against Spotify is about as helpful to their cause as campaigning against the Sony Walkman would have been in the early 80s. Music fans are increasingly streaming their music and, as artists, we have to adapt ourselves to their behaviour, rather than try to hold the line on a particular mode of listening to music."

The internet has turned consumers into a la carte fans. Everyone chooses what level of fandom is. Some fans only buy CDs. Some only buy vinyl. Some stream exclusively but opt to see their favorite artists live instead of purchasing music. There are also some who avoid spending money on an artist as much as possible via pirating or only listening to music via YouTube. That's only a small handful of the use cases that are out there and believe me, as long as technology is going to keep changing as quickly as it has it's only going to get even more complicated.

Business Insider has reason to believe that because label owner Scott Borchetta is looking to sell the label that by pulling Swift's catalog that it will cause scarcity in the market and it will thus drive people to purchase 1989 instead of Googling it and almost immediately finding it floating somewhere online. Someone should really remind Ms. Swift and Big Machine Label Group that you can't force people who only kind of like you to buy your album. That's not how the world operates now. We do not live in a black and white world full of absolutes. You either adapt to how things are changing, or your kind dies. 

It would be nice for once that instead of a huge artist running in the opposite direction of technology like streaming services that we witnessed an Arrested Development or House of Cards + Netflix scenario where an album is exclusively made available via streaming. Even if it was just for a limited time before some cool deluxe physical version was made available that fans could purchase. Futhermore, it would be an even bigger deal to see an artist do this after they completely shed themselves of their chains of a record deal so we could see them earn money directly from a streaming service on their own. Any tiny bit of the above would be amazing just so we could see how it works. Everyone is still so worried that the music business is dead and that artists will never may make money the same way again. While this is true, if artists who are able to potentially take the hit for the good of the community were less afraid to take more chances, there is potential for the industry to see a rebirth that the fans in the 21st century and beyond would happily pump their hard earned dollars into in the name of the art. I understand that everything is insanely complicated and it's more than just being like, "BYE FELICIA" to a major, but I really think that's the kind of direction we need to go into before significant change is made.