No matter where the geopolitics of the globe go in the next few months, the world can breathe one big sigh of relief for this: Taylor Swift’s music is no longer available on Spotify. The powers that be on Spotify want her back, of course. They posted this to their company blog.
“We hope [Swift will] change her mind and join us in building a new music economy that works for everyone. We believe fans should be able to listen to music wherever and whenever they want, and that artists have an absolute right to be paid for their work and protected from piracy. That’s why we pay nearly 70% of our revenue back to the music community.”
Swift’s decision to pull all of her songs from Spotify is the next move in a game she has already been playing. She and several other artists have withheld their newer music from the streaming service for a while. This a strategy called “windowing,” whereby an artist controls where their music is available first so as to maximize the profits of an album early on, recoup expenses of the project, and make the most money they can.
Nobody blames a major-label act who is beholden to the antiquated machinations of the Music Industry for trying to make more money. For Swift, this has become a rallying cry.
Back in July, Swift wrote an op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal about this. Ironically, the WSJ site is behind a paywall, so you’ll have to shell out some money to read what she said. But, thanks to a few sites that have posted bits and pieces of the article, we can tell you a few things about it.
“Piracy, file sharing and streaming have shrunk the numbers of paid album sales drastically, and every artist has handled this blow differently,” Swift wrote.
The trouble is, Taylor Swift’s reasoning on the matter puts her in the same boat as dinosaurs like Gene Simmons, who does not understand the difference between “piracy” and “file sharing” — both of which completely cut out profits for anyone, artist and record companies alike — and “streaming” or “downloading” in general, which are perfectly legal.
Gene Simmons linked these legal and illegal means together when he declared that “rock and roll is dead … murdered.” Now Swift links piracy and streaming in the same fashion.
“Downloading,” such as via iTunes Music Store, and “streaming,” such as through Spotify, do pay artists. They may not pay as much, particularly in the early days of a release, but they keep that music in the public eye and available for “the long tail.” And this is something that Swift and her ilk don’t understand. It’s about playing the long game, versus grabbing profits up front and running for the door.
Here is a bit more of the paywall-protected article Swift wrote.
“In recent years, you’ve probably read the articles about major recording artists who have decided to practically give their music away, for this promotion or that exclusive deal. My hope for the future, not just in the music industry, but in every young girl I meet…is that they all realize their worth and ask for it.”
Maybe Swift knows more than Led Zeppelin, who cut a deal with Spotify less than a year ago to carry their entire back catalog. Maybe she figures they are ‘practically giving their music away’ because they don’t ‘realize their worth’.
No, Led Zeppelin is now on Spotify because they do understand their worth. Led Zeppelin has made music that stands the test of time. It will be around and selling for decades to come. Making it readily available via a medium like Spotify, even if that medium doesn’t pay as much as the old industry model wishes yet, is investing in the future. The more people migrate to services like Spotify, the more Led Zeppelin will make. And making their catalog available there contributed to that rising tide.
Or how about the band that called Gene Simmons on his bull that “rock is dead”? Let’s look at Foo Fighters.
Foo Fighters is in the middle of an incredibly successful campaign for their Sonic Highways television series on HBO and the upcoming album of the same name. And what do they do every week? They release another song from the album. And it goes on Spotify.
Dave Grohl looks at the long view. And based in that view, he doesn’t even mind outright “piracy.” He sees it as a way to spread his music even further than a sales model could.
“I would rather have a venue filled with people singing every word to every one of our songs,” Grohl says, “than making sure that every one of them bought the record to do so.”
On another occasion, Grohl said, “I don’t think it’s a crime; it’s been going on for years. It’s the same as people making tapes for each other. The industry is more threatened by it because it’s the worldwide web and it’s a broader scope of trading, but I don’t think it’s such a fucking horrible thing. The first thing we should do is get all the fucking millionaires to shut their mouths, stop bitching about the 25 cents a time they’re losing.”
And remember all of Gene Simmons’ whinging? Yet every Kiss album you can name is in Spotify.
Swift’s gripe about sales ignores the evolution of the music industry she claims to defend.
“Historically record sales accounted for the majority of band revenues,” explains Chris Carey, senior economist at PRS for Music. “As record sales have suffered in recent years the industry has looked to other areas for revenue. Synchronizations [use in video games, tv programs, etc.] and merchandise sales have become increasingly important, and the boom in live music is well reported. It used to be that bands would tour at a loss to sell CDs. Nowadays music is often given away in order to generate buzz and promote live events.
“If you’re not making money from records you have to make it somewhere else,” says Carey. “Merchandise was up more than 20 percent in 2009 growing at a good rate and in 2008 live music was up about 13-14 percent, which is boom growth.”
My guess as to why Taylor Swift does not want to go for the long view with something legal and valid like Spotify is this:
She’s not going to be around to reap the rewards. Her music does not have that timeless appeal. When Foo Fighters, Led Zeppelin, and even Kiss are still pumping out music on services of the future like Spotify, Swift will be trying to bolster her film career or whatever the next thing is she moves on to. She has a limited window to make her money in. And she knows it.
So grab what you can, Taylor. ‘Cause you’re no Dave Grohl.