No, Beyoncé didn’t tell Spotify to f*&k off. Instead, she didn’t tell them anything. Just like she didn’t tell YouTube, Amazon, Sirius XM, or any television station, blog, news outlet or traditional radio station anything prior to release.
And when an artist figures out how to sell 828,773 units of a bundled-only, audio+video surprise album in three days by only connecting directly with her fans, then every single artist – obscure, ‘middle class’ or mega-superstar – should be paying very close attention.
These are just some of the things that Beyoncé has just taught the music industry.
(1) You can compete with free.
Artists live in extremely hostile times, with unfriendly ‘partners’:
(a) Google, one of the richest and most powerful companies in the world, works aggressively to obliterate content protections while urging artists to simply adapt (‘Content devaluation is impossible!’ Google executive Tim Quirk recently declared.)
(b) Spotify whips up a complicated haze of smoke and declares itself a transparent partner and friend of content creators, all while shaving off little for artists.
(c) YouTube will throw micro-pennies at artists that actually claim their channels, don’t issue DMCA takedowns, and figure out YouTube’s byzantine copyright system.
(d) Pandora has been actively lobbying Congress and suing publishers for years to lower artist royalties. At the same time, Pandora’s multi-millionaire founder, Tim Westergren, sends artists letters telling them that they will be getting more money.
So why did Beyoncé, one of the biggest artists alive, decide not to work with any of those companies? Why did she not even contact them?
The reason is that selling 828,773 albums in a controlled, more content-friendly environment like iTunes with dedicated promotion and predictable payouts makes infinitely more sense. Especially if it’s complicated for fans to get it someplace else.
(2) Windowing can be an extremely effective and potent sales strategy.
This isn’t just for superstars! Because your most dedicated fans will put money on the table for your content (in fact, you could argue that this defines a dedicated fan). Even smaller artists have been experimenting with pre-selling downloads (and albums and other content) prior to putting their music on Spotify.
Because ‘exposure’ only means something if it is actively (and measurably) helping an artist get paid (and survive).
If ‘exposure’ is driving traffic to shows, and leading to synch deals, then it’s working. If it’s not having any impact and stealing iTunes sales, then the strategy needs to be re-examined.
(3) Beyoncé isn’t trying to make Spotify rich. So why should you?
There’s no altruism in this business, at least not beyond your loving mother. So stop streaming Kumbaya: Spotify has its own financial interests and goals that may be completely misaligned with yours. Ask yourself: if Spotify goes public on Wall Street and mints billions, will you see any of that?
Which raises the question of why any artist would blindly accept the talking points of not only Spotify, but the entire streaming space (which of course also includes YouTube, Pandora, and Google).
(And that caution should also apply to Apple and iTunes, too, by the way).
(4) The album isn’t dead.
Albums still sell! They are still recognized as important works! And it’s not just the village elders: a lot of artists still release albums that are recognized as distinct and important opuses by fans of all ages (Arcade Fire, Jay-Z, Atoms for Peace… Beyoncé).
Because the drip, drip , drip of smaller releases is critically important, but this isn’t mutually exclusive from proper album releases.
And if your audience cares about the album, you’ll probably figure it out (like Beyoncé did.)
(5) Streaming is a very tricky platform that must be treated strategically (not blindly).
There’s more data out there than ever before. A few years back, deadmau5 realized that there was a positive correlation between his Facebook likes and the crowd volumes at this shows. But there may not be a positive relationship between exposure on platforms like Pandora, Spotify, and YouTube and other revenue-generating platforms (like, shows). In fact, deadmau5 opted to window his latest album release from Spotify.
Which means, every platform should be viewed strategically, not blindly. And if doesn’t make sense, there shouldn’t be a relationship.
(6) Audio-only won’t be dead, but it will be different from now on.
Beyoncé isn’t the first to experiment with audio+video releases, but she is the biggest. And the future is right now: we have the bandwidth and storage to handle multimedia album releases with ease. Not only that, full-package audio+video releases are easier to protect and more likely to get mangled on channels like BitTorrent (and harder to stream on Spotify, creating a higher-end product).
(7) Well-cultivated, direct and dedicated fanbases will pay for stuff.
It’s not just Beyoncé. It’s also Amanda Palmer, who used her diligently-cultivated legion of fans to power more than a million dollars in direct fan contributions on Kickstarter. Not only that, but a tiny sliver of those fans contributed the greatest percentage of donations.
(8) If they’re not paying for your releases, are they really your fans?
That’s a question Beyoncé has obviously thought about. And it’s the type of soul-searching every artist should be doing.
Our breaking Beyoncé coverage is here.
Written while listening to Fuck Buttons. Image by naosuke ii (@flickr), licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).