NPR Asks, “Does Listening to Spotify Make You a Bad Person?”

Streaming services are legal, but are they ethical?




This is a question of morality that keeps resurfacing, in bigger and bigger ways: Last month, the New Yorker posed the question, ‘If you care about music, should you ditch Spotify?’  Elsewhere, top executives like former Ticketmaster CEO Nathan Hubbard have accused companies like Spotify of exploiting a highly-disorganized artist class, while artists like Pink Floyd have publicly accused Pandora of blatantly tricking artists to maximize their own profits.

This time around, it’s NPR, which is the latest mainstream outlet to pose a serious question related to the morality of streaming.


  • Save


The question was sent by a listener, and author Stephen Thomson first drew a bright line around US law.


“Given that many questions of right and wrong are arbitrated by the U.S. legal system, let’s start there. Unlike, say, Napster or an assortment of BitTorrent sites — wherein users take/took digital copies of copyrighted music without payment or permission — Spotify (like Rdio, Pandora, Soundcloud, et al) operates entirely legally, with performers and license-holders receiving a fee for allowing their music to be streamed. The same goes for YouTube, though you’re considerably more likely to find pirated (and thus unpaid-for) recordings there.”


But it’s just not that simple, which is why Thomson then waded into the tricky, gray waters of right and wrong.


“That said, I understand why you ask: Spotify pays artists (and license-holders and songwriters, who often aren’t one and the same) a significantly reduced rate compared to other royalties. Many articles have been written on the topic, covering many different points of view, and opinions vary wildly from artist to artist. So instead of issuing some sort of blanket ruling, I’ll simply encourage you to chase the feeling that led you to ask in the first place. You’re looking to support the artists you love, while also experiencing the full range of music-listening options available to you. That’s a fine and worthy pursuit, and there’s no reason you can’t come up with a balance that gets you there.”


So how does the socially-conscious listener achieve that balance?  Thomson offers a number of perspectives that may help you feel like a better person.


(1) Streaming = discovery.

Streaming services are highly-effective discovery vehicles that should set the stage for future, more meaningful support of an artist.

“You can’t discover a new favorite band if you’ve never heard its music, so take advantage of the many different ways to stumble upon great stuff and then make purchases as an informed consumer. If you love a piece of music you find, then don’t hesitate to buy it.”


(2) Streaming = access.

In many cases, artists want listeners to have access to their recordings, despite abysmal payouts.

“From samples made available for streaming through online retailers to pre-release album streams on websites such as this one, a good deal of free online music listening is not only ethical, but, for the artists involved, highly sought-after. In addition, sites such as Bandcamp are set up in order for musicians to sell their work directly to fans, but they allow for and encourage free previews — in effect, an on-demand streaming service the artist has not only authorized, but encouraged.”


(3) Real fans buy premium stuff.

Stream if you must, but real fans take action to pay your favorite artists through better revenue-generating platforms.

“Dig into the tremendous array of ways to sustain the livelihood of musicians whose work sustains you. Contribute to their Kickstarter campaigns if they exist. Go to their concerts and encourage your friends to join you — and, while you’re there, buy a T-shirt or music directly from the band itself.”

(4) Artists frequently want to give their stuff away.

“…you can often get a definitive answer to your own ethical quandary by simply asking bands what they think. “How do you feel about fans streaming your music for free online?” is a perfectly reasonable question to put out there. More often than not, the musicians you love are themselves circulating ways for you to hear their music without paying for the privilege.”

Make sense?  The full article is here.


(image: Ananth BSCC by 2.0)

35 Responses

    • Paul Resnikoff

      No I haven’t. Not even close. Then again, this article isn’t about me.

      • GGG

        No, but it illustrates the exact point of why streaming needs to be supported; no other current method of music consumption legally meets with consumer desire/trends. If someone so against streaming uses it all the time, clearly there’s a reason for that. You want to consume more than you can afford or care to pay for. Streaming solves both those problem.

        • Visitor

          “Does Listening to Spotify Make You a Bad Person?”
          “Does Streaming Your Music on Spotify Make You an Idiot?”

        • steveh

          “You want to consume more than you can afford or care to pay for. Streaming solves both those problem.”

          The perfect solution for Greedy C**nt

  1. Zac Shaw

    If a musician doesn’t want to be heard, they don’t deserve fan support.

  2. explain

    Paul, can you elaborate on this:
    “a significantly reduced rate compared to other royalties.”
    you put it in bold but failed to explain it. if spotify licenses legally, they are doing so in accordance to law and rates set by labels and publishers.

    • Visitor

      This is an especially good point considering Spotify doesn’t even pay the lowest royalty rates among streamers (that would be Youtube, Pandora), so it could have just as easily and just as truthfully said “a significantly incrased rate compared to other royalties.”

  3. Tune Hunter

    In the middle of 2008, together with arrival of iTunes App Store, all discovery tools went in to the free and wild and music was thrown in to the streets – total oversight on Apple side!
    Prior to that event AT&T and Shazam charged and split one dollar per ID with no attention from labels and no cash to musicians.

    At about same time label’s think tanks gave up on conventional monetization and with no regards to iTunes and Amazon opened the floodgate of FREE.

    What kind of vision is behind those brilliant monetization projects will remain a puzzle.

    As it is Spotify equals to fully portable improved Napster with all discovery tools at the finger-tip.

    YouTube in the meantime is not only exempt from any anti-piracy pressure.
    Actually it was begged by labels to incorporate VEEVOO into the site so they can add $.001(???) per tune to their bottom line.

    STUPIDITY, DESPERATION or DEPRESSION – no matter what is the reason the matters went to far!

    Time for top tier musicians and the label’s key shareholders to show up in the boardrooms.

    Internet and music are absolutely perfect fit and few bold moves can double the business in just 36 months!

    • Tune Hunter

      Looks like Universal boardroom!
      Do not see smoke, they must be working on some rutine staff.

  4. Radio & Records Vet

    Internet and music are absolutely perfect fit and few bold moves can double the business in just 36 months!
    Really? I’d take a piece of that action.

    • Tune Hunter

      Very simple, just put some walls around the music! There is no reason for FREE Shazam or similar tune suggest service or full info on your radio display. At current monthly rates for instant discovery (including lyrics ID) you can have 32 billion industry with tunes monetized at $.39 just make it mandatory Discovery moment Monetization.

      • hippydog

        Again.. Shazam is a private company.. No one can force it to do anything..

        • TuneHunter

          I agree with you, they are private. So we have two choices:
          Labels give them 20% of whatever is the sale price of tune – and if all busy bodies inside will not get the msg. where is the bank – impatient investors will!
          Second option (should be top priority for RIAA) is to force those “avangard” and cashless ID ventures to to “sale only option” under fair use doctrine.
          I think with current desperation (Vevo and streaming are not and will not add-up) they might pool resouces and do it.
          Whichever way it goes, it has to go that way, Discovery Moment Monetization is the only way for double digit growth.

          • Radio & Records Vet

            do you have your own company with a business plan such as what you state, where you can show the projected growth curve?

  5. steveh

    It has definitely reached the stage where people are somewhat ashamed to admit they use Spotify, certainly if they are in the company of musicians.
    Spotify is becoming a dirty word.
    Personally, if I hear someone saying they use Spotify in the back of my mind I think “greedy c**t”.

    • GGG

      I use Spotify premium. Since I started using it about two years ago I’ve gone to see probably 25-30 acts that I heard because they were on there. 100% would not have bought their music out of the blue, and I actually bought a couple records that I REALLY liked. All smaller to mid-level acts so avg ticket price is about $15 and I buy two to take my gf or another friend. So I’ve basically spent a thousand bucks at least on artists directly because of Spotify.
      So let’s see, I stream an album and they get some change, I buy tickets and they get money, talk about them to friends and they get more fans, buy next records and they get more money, a poster if they have them and they get more money, etc. But yea, I’m the greedy cunt…
      Get off your high horse you self-rigtheous tool.

      • steveh

        You are a dishonest self-justifying tool.
        The only reason you like Spotify is because it gives you “all you can eat” music for a fixed monthly fee.

        • GGG

          How is that dishonest? I gave those artists the time of day and in all cases money, and in many cases a lot of money, both things they most likely wouldn’t have gotten from me without streaming. And I’m not some unique snowflake in this regard. Obviously the average person doesn’t go to 30+ shows a year, but it’s the same fundamental idea. A hit record in 1998 in a country of 300M still only sold a couple million. Do the rest of people not listen to music? No, they just don’t buy it for whatever reason. Here’s how we reach them.
          And yes, you are exactly right! THAT’S THE WHOLE FUCKING POINT! People, for whatever reason you want to blame it on, want more than they can or want to afford. And have for over 10 years now! So why continue to fight this. We tried for that decade and got nowhere. If recorded music was a band’s only product, it would be an even more monumental problem than it is now. But it’s not remotely true. I’m just as upset as anyone we don’t live in a world where CD sales can fund an artist for 3 years, but it’s not going back. Learn to take advantage of all the digital age has to offer. Learn to maximize income as much as possible. Learn to improve everything as an industry not be split between people like me trying to figure those things out and people who can’t get their heads out of their 1998 ass.

          • steveh

            OK good I wouldn’t disagree too much with your second paragraph.
            But unfortunately you champion Spotify which is conceived and run by greedy corporate Swedish assholes, and aims to appeal to the lowest level of greed in a woefully dumbed down audience.
            That’s the truth of the matter. To quote Jack Nicholson “you can’t handle the truth”.
            It’s nothing to do with 1998 at all.
            Why don’t you defend Bandcamp? I would take you a bit more seriously if you did.
            You are backing the wrong horse.
            It’s laughable how much Spotify – that 18 months ago with its shitty Facebook gambit was claiming to be the “social” digital music service – is now appearing to be socially unacceptable.

          • GGG

            Well, unfortunately, just like the RIAA and majors should have created an iTunes before Apple, they should have created a streaming service that caters even more to them and labels before EK did. But they were too busy bitching and failing to reverse the inevitable.
            Why don’t I defend Bandcamp? First of all, we never talk about Bandcamp. Second of all, I have never attacked Bandcamp, and neither has anyone else so would I need to defend it? But yes, I’m all for their higher-than-iTunes payouts and I’m all for their completely royalty free streaming capabilities if an artist wants to do that. So not sure how talking about streaming would make Bandcamp look better than Spotify besides the on-site purchase option. I guess you’d rather artists get 0 from streaming? Weird…

          • Lynch

            GGG, sometimes I think you’re one of the only people people on this site that has got a fucking clue. Keep it coming.

    • jw

      I’ve subscribed to Spotify premium since the day premium launched in the US (the years prior to that I was tunnelling through a server in London & listening to the free version w/ British ads, though I would’ve gladly have been paying for premium that whole time if it were an option). And, like GGG said, I spend a pretty outrageous amount of money on bands I never would’ve heard of if not for free downloading or Spotify. Not even counting buying tickets to shows, I’ve pre-ordered the Temperance Movement, Haim, & Blitzen Trapper records on vinyl, ordered the Shovels & Rope & John Fullbright records I’ve been listening to incessantly since they came out last year (which it turns out is all icing on top of the cake), ordered a bundle of all the Peter Green Fleetwood Mac records, picked up the first Blitzen Trapper record at their show… that’s like 10 records in the last 3 weeks at ~$20/pop, plus a handful of live shows, & a handful of used records. And I gave $60 last week to Shovel & Rope’s kickstarter for their new doc.
      So who is the greedy cunt, steve? Sounds like you are.

    • hippydog

      QUOTE “Personally, if I hear someone saying they use Spotify in the back of my mind I think “greedy c**t””
      Do you also think the same thing when you hear someone state they listen to the Radio?
      and why not?

  6. AK

    Is it just me that finds it hilarious that a discussion about the music industry includes comments where the FANS are the greedy cunts?
    Nurse, the stitches etc.

    • Richard Zedalius

      It is super entertaining to read the comments in here. I thought this one was quite amusing too:
      “just put some walls around the music!”

      • Visitor

        Another gem that always pops up-

        Piracy and child pornography are related crimes.

  7. Blicker

    The Major Labels own 18 percent of spotify.
    They have all the back catalog that makes them no money.
    Their hope was to have enough subscribers to make enough money to pay the rights holders.
    Youtube on the other hand is way more responsible for the destruction of copy right and promotion of free music.
    Youtube is where is see lots of young kids listening to music for free that an artist will never get paid for. But Google will with its advertisement.
    The only reason they still can play the we cant control what people put up on our site is the hundreds of millions they stuff into polititicians pockets. Where are the ethics police for that?