By this point we’ve heard it all. Every side of the Swiftify spectrum from the haters who gonna hate hate hate hate (sorry had to) to the cheerleaders who blast Spotify every chance they get.
To catch you up if you’ve been under a rock this past week, Taylor Swift sold more albums in its debut week than any other artist in 12 years. She’s the only artist to go platinum all year. And she pulled all of her music from Spotify. All of it.
Well, that’s the part of the story that isn’t actually fully understood. SHE didn’t pull it. Her label, Big Machine Records, pulled it. And more specifically, it was Scott Borchetta, the CEO. He’s looking to sell the label and thinks that the only metric buyers care about is sales. He (along with these alleged buyers) are clearly out of touch.
We’re never going back to downloads. We’re never going back to CDs. Yes, in 2014 there are a large number of people who listen to CDs in their cars. And yes, in 2014, there are still people paying for downloads. But this will not be the case in 5 years. You think cars are going to have CD players in 10 years? Please. That’s like in 1998 proclaiming cassette tapes are the future because your car only had a tape deck.
Taylor Swift is the biggest superstar in the world. 16 million Spotify users streamed her in the 30 days leading up to her removal. Her previous album had been streamed over 260 million times. And she sold 1.3 million records in a week.
She hasn’t proven anything other than that the biggest superstar in the world can still get a million people to pay for a single album. She is the exception. Not the rule.
People are not going to pay for albums anymore. Or singles. People will pay for experiences and access. Tech figured this out. Please don’t scream at me that I don’t value music. I am a touring musician and songwriter (I’m writing this from 30,000 feet on my way to a gig). I just released an album I’m incredibly proud of. It’s a complete piece of art. And I hope people value it as such. But I’m not stuck in the past. I’m not going to fight progress. I will find alternative ways to make a living with my music other than selling of a hunk of encoded plastic or digital file.
And you should too. No, streaming payments to artists are not making up for the loss in sales revenue. At least not yet. Time will tell if they ever will. The labels are making out just fine. But those revenues are not trickling down to their artists. And definitely not happening for the independent artists making a half a penny per play.
The “windowing” method, that artists like Taylor Swift, Adele, Coldplay and Beyonce have utilized in the past couple years, may have generated a few more opening week sales, but let’s not forget that in 2012, Mumford and Sons released their album on Spotify and iTunes on the same day and had the biggest debut of that year (until Taylor Swift knocked them off a week later) selling 600,000 copies with over 8 million streams on Spotify in the first week.
Withholding music from streaming services increases piracy. There’s no debating that. Unless you have the behemoth that is Taylor Swift’s (or Beyonce’s) major label enterprise, you’re not going to combat it. Having music on streaming services increases ticket sales. T-shirt sales. Paid experiences. Crowd funding. And loyalty.
We’re in a tough transitional period. If you pull your music from Spotify you turn your back on the fans who put their love of Spotify above their love of any single artist. This crowd has tasted the future and they like it.
You’re never going to get people to return to clunky file transfers and device incompatibilities.
Those who haven’t adopted streaming as their primary listening model (regardless of the service) haven’t done so because they are late adopters. These are the same people who held onto Blackberries, VCRs and dialup. This is not how you want to structure your business model for a music career. Or an industry.
People value music. Obviously. Over 10 million pay about $120 a year for Spotify. In 1999 (the peak of the music industry), consumers who bought music spent on average $64 that year. One could argue that streaming has the potential to drive much more money to recorded music.
But no one wants to talk about the long term. Clearly the labels utilizing windowing only care about opening week sales. Fine. Stay short-sighted. You’ll lose. Those who are working the long game and realize that fan loyalty can be more valuable than opening week sales will succeed.
Every artist who denounces streaming is steering music fans away from a model that could completely revive the recorded music industry as we know it.
So, don’t pull your music from Spotify. Work on building a loyal fan base. Figure out how to monetize this base creatively. And march confidently into the future.