After listening to a number of Taylor Swift’s songs, you could say she is pretty used to getting her heart broken, but this past Tuesday she was the heartbreaker when she announced the removal of her entire catalog from Spotify. I was extremely disappointed when I heard the news as I have always been a huge fan of Swift’s music, and I am concerned with the how this move will affect her career in the future.
Swift is signed with Big Machine, a company that is owned by Scott Borchetta who made the final decision to pull Swift’s albums, according to USA Today. However, this is not the first time that Big Machine has kept albums from Spotify. In 2012 when Swift released her album Red, it was also withheld from the music streaming website, but for only 120 days. Other Big Machine artists like Rascal Flatts and Brantley Gilbert have withheld albums for a period of time after being released as well, according to USA Today. Swift stands behind Borchetta’s decision as she has never been a fan of streaming services. “Music is art, and art is important and rare,” said Swift, according to Rolling Stone. “Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for.” Swift and Big Machine feel that services like Spotify are the reason for the decrease in album sales which is their ultimate motivation behind this decision, according to USA Today.
I understand the reasoning for this bold move made by Swift and Big Machine, but I feel that they are trying to fix this issue the absolute wrong way. Upsetting fans and Spotify is not going to motivate more people to buy Swift’s album. People who really don’t want to buy the album are going to get it through other means such as piracy, and online streaming services like Spotify and Pandora do not support piracy. I completely support artists being compensated for their work, but that is not the issue with online streaming sites. A large percentage of their revenue goes back to the musicians who create the music, according to Rolling Stone. Online streaming is quickly becoming the music economy of the future. Paid subscriptions to online streaming services are up 57 percent from last year, according to the Recording Industry Association of America, and album sales have decreased 14 percent, according to Rolling Stone. The proof is in the numbers; nobody wants to buy CDs anymore or albums from online stores like iTunes and the Google Play Store.
Services like Pandora and Spotify make money off of ads which are a part of the free user experience, but also offer paid subscriptions that will play music uninterrupted by ads. Spotify allows users to pay $5 or $10 a month to eliminate ads.
Radiohead’s Thom Yorke is another artist that has issues with the business models of online streaming services. He insists that the artist only receive low royalty payments while the users get to listen to their music for free, according to Rolling Stone. I understand how an artist like Yorke could be upset because these royalty payments are significantly lower than what they would receive for a purchased album, but that’s the point. We get to listen to the music as users, but we still don’t own it, and I’m sure those low royalty payments add up quickly. Representatives at Spotify have assured concerned artists like Yorke that the money improves as more users sign up for the service and premium subscriptions are bought.
In my experience with online streaming sites, rarely do people feel the need to buy the the paid subscription. Most of the commercials are only about 10 to 20 seconds long and are not played after every song. They don’t bother me enough to feel the need to pay to have them removed, and I’m probably not the only one.
It seems to me that there is a lack of communication between services like Spotify and the artists that give them permission to play their music. If album sales continue to go down and online streaming subscriptions continue to go up, the business models of companies like Spotify and Pandora will need to be altered in order to better compensate the artists.
Spotify is aggressively working to get Taylor Swift and Big Machine to go back on their decision, according to the company’s blog. They recently launched a social media campaign called #justsayyes quoting lyrics from one of Swift’s most popular songs Love Story and Stay on a post on their blog.
The statement said, “We love Taylor Swift, and our more than 40 million users love her even more – nearly 16 million of them have played her songs in the last 30 days, and she’s on over 19 million playlists. We hope she’ll 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 percent of our revenue back to the music community. PS – Taylor, we were both young when we first saw you, but now there’s more than 40 million of us who want you to stay, stay, stay. It’s a love story, baby, just say, Yes.”
The response made by Spotify was both hilarious and clever. I think it was a perfect way to respond as it was not too serious and will get others involved quickly by using social media.
Universal Music Group (UMG), the distributor of Swift’s music for Big Machine, worked hard to convince Borchetta that his way of thinking is not current and that his decision to pull Swift’s music was very “shortsighted,” according to Business Insider.
UMG CEO Lucian Grange spoke about how streaming is the future of the music business at the WSJ tech conference in Southern California last week. He mentioned the great benefit of online streaming services which is that artists will be getting paid for their music throughout their lives and not just one time when their albums are first purchased, according to Business Insider.
Twenty million playlists on Spotify contained songs by Swift, and 25 percent of users have streamed her songs. What Big Machine did with Swift’s music is not usually allowed meaning that most artists are unable to just pull their music from companies like Spotify, according to Business Insider. The sole reason this particular instance was allowed to happen is because of a special deal that Big Machine has with Universal Music Group.
Swift’s most recent album, 1989, is on track to sell 1.3 million copies in its opening weekend, which would make it the biggest opening weekend in album sales since 2002, only a year before the iTunes music store came into existence. With the price set at $10 per album, that’s $13 million in revenue brought in by Swift’s album in one week
Let’s be honest, Swift doesn’t need to be worried about album sales, and as a die-hard Swift fan I hope Big Machine changes their mind and can come to some agreement with Spotify so that Swift’s music can return to their library.
Caitlin Malone can be reached a firstname.lastname@example.org