What a time to be a Taylor Swift fan. Last week, the Grammy-winning pop singer released her latest album, 1989. This album granted her the distinction of being the only artist in 2014 to sell more than a million albums. While Swift’s many supporters are surely excited for her success, they were also given a less exciting surprise: the removal of all her music from the popular Internet streaming service Spotify prior to the album’s release.
The move came as a shock to not only Spotify users but also the company itself. A response to Swift’s departure was posted on Spotify’s official blog. In the post, Spotify emphasized her popularity with the service’s 40 million users, expressed hope for her return and even created a playlist of songs begging Swift to come back.
Compensation is one of the issues that has caused artists to withdraw music from services such as Spotify. Unlike downloading an album from iTunes or buying a CD, Spotify sells you an “all-you-can-eat buffet” of music that just gets bigger as more music is added from artists. Using either a free account (with ads) or a premium, paid account (ad-free), Spotify users get more music than they could ever hope to listen to. While Spotify must pay for the proper rights to sell access to this music, the money that artists actually get is dismal.
While Swift is probably the most high-profile artist to remove her music from Spotify, she certainly isn’t the first.
The frontman of British indie-rock group Radiohead, Thom Yorke, removed his solo album and the debut LP of his side band project, Atoms for Peace, from the service last year. Blues duo The Black Keys has also prevented its last two albums, El Camino and Turn Blue, from being available for streaming.
Spotify does not pay on a per-stream basis, but the amount in royalties paid is dependent on how many times a song is streamed — the more a song is streamed overall, the more royalties are paid out to those who own the distribution rights to the song.
However, if artists were paid on a per stream basis, Spotify estimates that the average song would pay about $0.006 to $0.0084 in royalties. While this may eventually add up for big artists such as Swift or Yorke, it doesn’t exactly help out less popular bands.
In an interview with Mexican website Sopitas.com last year, Yorke urged artists to reject the streaming business model.
Yorke said that the modern music industry should fight against Spotify, adding “no artists need you to do it. We can build the shit ourselves, so f*ck off.”
In its blog post to Swift, Spotify claimed that it paid 70 percent of its revenue back to the “music community,” which Spotify defines as the rights holders. However, many of those who own the rights to a song or an album are not the artists themselves.
In a time when enormous acts such as U2 and Jay-Z are giving away albums for free, the value of music is in jeopardy. With the ever-present threat of piracy still hanging over the music industry, it’s hard to not worry about the worth of an artist’s music.
Spotify presents an admissible alternative to music piracy with its current business model. However, it doesn’t do a great job of allowing young, fledgling bands to get a piece of the streaming pie.
With the current amount that Spotify pays out to rights holders (it is difficult if not near impossible) for less popular acts to find any success with streaming. There needs to be a focus on proper compensation of the artist on the part of Spotify. In this sense, Swift’s removal of her music represents not just a statement about what her music is worth, but what all artists music is worth.
Today’s society is lucky enough to live in an age where a wide variety of content is so readily available. With that comes the responsibility, and the opportunity, to put the money in the right hands. Regardless of the popularity of a particular music group or artist, their music has worth.