Sam Smith Downloads Surging Amidst Spotify Holdout…

Part I: The Spotify Holdout.


Over the past two months, Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” has become one of the biggest songs in the world.  Smith has refused to license Spotify from the beginning.

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Part II: The Download Sales Performance.


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Part III: The Album Sales Performance.


Albums sales for In the Lonely Hour, across both downloads and physical sales, have been solid at 233,100 after two weeks.

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46 Responses

  1. jw

    So the story here is what? That someone is withholding a song from Spotify & still selling records?

    Are the sales above average for a #2 song? Where is an example of a song with similar chart success that DID license to Spotify, & how do the sales compare?

    You’re charting sales & stating that the album is withheld from Spotify. But you’re linking those together as if one is a cause & the other is the effect. Which may or may not be the case, but this is entirely speculation.

    • Anonymous

      “So the story here is what?”

      Agree — successful Spotify holdouts are not news anymore.

      They’re just the way to go today.

  2. Anonymous

    Are you really saying “Smith” has opted out of streaming?

    Don’t you mean his Label???

    • Paul Resnikoff

      Actually, I’m not sure who pulled the trigger on that decision. But oftentimes, the label – almost definitely if it’s a stakeholding major label – wants to include all music, as this boosts the value of the streaming service (ie, Spotify). The majors have big stakes, and stand to gain huge payouts from IPOs, acquisitions, share buyouts, whatever.

      As for Smith’s management, well… Smith hires those people. And just like Lady Gaga or any other artist, he can fire them.

      • Anonymous

        Point taken but that’s a rather large carve out on a contract for a relatively brand new artist. It could be standard fare for the black keys, Coldplay, Beyoncé etc but I just can’t imagine this came from the artist side…

      • john henry dale

        Sam Smith manager is his mom, who is a former banker. Apparently she was fired for spending too much time managing his career.

  3. Destroy DMN!

    Digital Music News? Somebody acqui-hire and flush this shit excuse for toilet paper down the toilet! Artists and managers keep reading this bullshit and believing this and it’s going to cost Spotify BILLIONS when Wall Street believes it too!

    • Anonymous

      “it’s going to cost Spotify BILLIONS”

      And that’s bad because…?

    • hippydog

      LOL, Billions?

      Maybe someone should tell them to purchase a few ads on this site then? 😉
      I’m sure if they were a major advertiser, Paul might not be so inclined to hack on them 😉

  4. GGG

    There’s many ways you can look at this whole story.

    1) Holding out has led to some people just buying the record. I agree with that, sure, though I continue to find it funny you always call out Spotify for taking these sales and not YouTube, which has the album in full. I love the disconnect on this site of Spotify being a failure because nobody uses it, yet it somehow steals tens of millions of downloads away from artists.

    2) Maybe streaming his EP was a great marketing move. I bought his album, but I first listened to him on Spotify. Funny how that works…

    • Anonymous

      “I continue to find it funny you always call out Spotify for taking these sales and not YouTube”

      The original YouTube was a promotional platform until Google screwed it up with its new contract.

      Spotify, on the other hand, may be your personal go-to site for discovery, but it never reached that status for most people.

      So the safe choice for artists today is to stay away from Spotify during release. There’s nothing to lose and everything to gain (iTunes sales)!

      You can always start streaming after a week or two — when your most devoted fans have bought your music.

      • GGG

        So, what, the few people that use Spotify collectively bought hundreds of millions of albums prior to a couple years ago?

      • GGG

        Also, how do you not see the disconnect in calling YT a promotional platform, even before the next contract, but Spotify a DL stealer? YT has had full albums up for years, whether by track or in one video. It doesn’t matter if you could upload previews or whatever, those tracks were still there, available to stream.

        I really don’t understand what part of this you don’t get.

        • Anonymous

          GGG, it all comes down to this:

          1) YouTube songs could go viral — Spotify songs couldn’t.
          2) You could monetize previews, interviews and behind-the-scenes instead of full songs or albums on the original YouTube — but not on Spotify.

          And yes, some content providers chose to upload full albums, but I just don’t think that was the right choice — at least not during release week/month.

          Anyways, the original YouTube is dead — let’s fight over something else. 🙂

          • GGG

            If you combine the top 3 Money on My Mind searches in youtube you get about 35M views. MOMM has 63M on Spotify. So what’s that about going viral again?

    • Alex

      Also. He has a track with 60+ million plays. Withholding?

  5. Stu

    Erm. “Smith has refused to license Spotify from the beginning.”

    All his singles – Stay With Me, Lay Me Down, Money on My Mind and the Nirvana EP – have been on the service since their release, and his 10 most popular tracks have been streamed around 115m times (I’m going by the play counts on his profile).

    Maybe the singles aren’t on Spotify in the US? That would be a more interesting (not to mention accurate) story to pursue, if there’s a different streaming strategy across the Atlantic. The album is certainly windowed, in both countries as far as I can make out. But that’s windowing, not refusing to license from the beginning.

    If Sam’s success proves withholding an album from Spotify is a good strategy, what does *looks up* Ed Sheeran’s success say? X launched on Spotify day-and-date with iTunes etc, and he pre-released seven (I think) of its tracks in the run-up to its release on Spotify.

    (Again, that’s UK, not sure if that tactic was tried in the US too)

    All I can see here is that popular, well-marketed artists can still sell albums, whether those albums are on Spotify or not. It’s not such an attention-grabbing headline, I grant you ;o)

    • Paul Resnikoff

      This is US-focused, though the UK is similar. I tested both, but not every country where Spotify has a presence. So, you’re correct that this isn’t a complete, global look.

      And as to the earlier comment that Smith isn’t withholding if other catalog is on Spotify, please note that the focus here is on the most in-demand, popular, and recent stuff. After a time, those materials will likely be available on Spotify (and the gamut of streaming services). That’s called windowing.

      Windowing is about delaying releases – and creating distinct release windows – for different platforms in order to maximize revenue. I’m not sure if Hollywood invented it, but they’re sort of the classic example (first a movie hits theaters, then airplanes, then DVD, or whatever the order is…)

      • smg77

        Windowing is a lot different than withholding but I guess you have to get your sensationalist headlines somehow.

      • Stu

        Well, that was my point: ‘Sam Smith’s new album is being windowed on Spotify’ would be a more accurate assessment than ‘Smith has refused to license Spotify from the beginning’ surely?

        What do you make of the Sheeran strategy?

  6. Anonymous

    Meanwhile, Ed Sheeran’s album IS on Spotify, and is ahead of Sam Smith on the album chart, at #1. Maybe if Sam had made his album available on Spotify, he could have been #1?

    • Anonymous

      Ah, so you think consumers would feel more inclined to buy the album if they could get it for free? 🙂

    • GGG

      Bahahah. Didn’t even look that up. In context of this article, this might be the greatest thing ever.

    • david

      Sheeran’s album came out a month after smiths though. Smith’s sells are holding up quite nicely in the us and he will probably be #1 on the album chart next week or the week after.

      • GGG

        Yea, this will be a nice little experiment to see how sales/streams go. Not totally the same since Ed has a couple years on Sam, but they are as close as we can get probably.

        • Anonymous

          Why don’t you do your own experiments? Don’t you have two similar sized bands?

          Try windowing during release week and you’ll never go back.

          • GGG

            Eh…probably close enough in size, but still too small on the whole to be meaningful. Unless we get some huge press that drives tens of thousands of people to us, we’d be talking about a sales difference of like a hundred people max, so there’d really be no way to knowing if that was just one band was just more likable or reached more people or it was windowing or what.

  7. hippydog

    Its also on Deezer..

    so to be specific..

    he didnt withhold from “streaming” per-se
    just Spotify

    • Anonymous

      “he didnt withhold from “streaming” per-se
      just Spotify”

      Might explain the headline Sam Smith Downloads Surging Amidst Spotify Holdout…

      • hippydog

        these threads mention Spotify, and next thing its STREAMING IS EVIL..

        I’m not saying streaming isnt evil , I just like to be specific 😉

        Also i was thinking..
        spotify is not in Canada..
        So if Ed sheerans sales numbers and Sam smiths sales numbers correspond up here (normalized for population)
        and they turn out too follow close to the same pattern as the USA (or not)..
        it would prove or disprove the windowing theory..

  8. Industry Manager

    @Paul All management contracts are different. Not all artists can fire their managers. Unless you have clout, more than likely you can not unilaterally leave your contract with said manager/mgmt company without notice of a legitimate cause/breach of contract argument (that would hold up in court) and a cure.

    And even when an artist can fire a manager (due to clauses in said contract) most managers/mgmt companies are entitled to post term commissions.


    • Paul Resnikoff

      OK, if we’re sticking to the contracts here. But you can’t really make an artist, or anyone for that matter, do something if they really, really don’t want to do it. Smith’s got clout, if I’m his manager or management group I’d dance with him if there are demands and concerns over streaming.

      And this is all speculating that Smith is the driver of this strategy.

      • Anonymous

        You can’t make anyone do anything, but if you’re sitting there looking at a six or seven figure advance you’ll likely be much more easily persuaded to make certain concessions.

        Being that management (and many times the legal counsel brokering the deal) work on a commission of the gross of these deals, they’re more likely to push for these types of things to go through (and generally speaking the artist is ready to get paid…if not already well into debt).

        I think Smith has potential, and some leverage built on speculation but not necessarily clout. Adele’s got clout, so does Beyonce, Pharell, Eminem etc. These are proven brands that can garner numbers and more favorable terms and conditions.

        We only need to look at the trainwreck that was Kreashawn (or maybe even more recently Robin Thicke) to help discern hype vs clout.

  9. hippydog

    heres the other thing..

    i have no problem accepting that ‘windowing a release’ can increase sales.. (though i still have not been shown a graph of before & after of normalized numbers that truly supports the theory)

    but i still wonder how it effects album sales..

    This is just a sampling of moi (me) of one..
    but if i like a song, I will go and buy it (even if I can stream it) . for the simple reason I want full access to it (whereas I can’t always stream songs)

    but I probably wont buy the whole album (unless it has at least two tracks that I want)
    I am more likely to ‘stream’ the album, and if its really good, THEN buy the full album..

    maybe its an age thing, (as i used to buy albums a lot when I was young),
    but now I am “Album Fearful” ..
    I purchased a heck of a lot of CD’s that I really wished I hadn’t (as it many times only had one good song on it) So I got into the habit of looking or waiting for the compilation CD’s..

    Now EVERYTHING is a “single”
    Sure, windowing may give an uptick in download sales (which has a much higher initial return),
    but i wonder if it can downgrade the # of people who might have purchased the album? or would it even have an effect?

    • GGG

      The problem with the windowing argument is it can never be proven or disproven unless someone has a time machine. BUT, I think it’s pretty much common sense to assume some people just say “fuck it, I’ll buy it.” The question is more ‘how many people say that?’ than it is ‘does windowing work?’ There’s just far too many factors to make a blanket statement, though. Size of band, for example. My bands are all smaller indies, so I’d much rather forfeit like $2k if it meant thousands and thousands more people were going to hear the record (and make us a couple hundred bucks still from streaming). In the grand scheme of things, a few hundred new fans are much more important.

      As for albums, I think people are just over them. I, personally, love having full albums so I rarely buy singles. But usually those albums are either from artists I have been a fan of for a while so I more or less trust them sounds unheard, or it’s an album where I’ve heard like 4-5 songs so just decided to get it.

      And I think pop fans are pretty similar. People who like pop music know it’s not some deep artistic statement you need to absorb. So why buy a pop record for one song? Taylor Swift can sell an ton of records because people trust her output as an artist by now (from hits). Katy Perry and Rihanna, etc can sort of sell records because their team churns out hit after hit. But one or two hits? Forget it, you need like 5+ to get that trust. Psy had the biggest song ever by standard metrics. Anyone give a shit about him or his record now? Carly Rae Jepsen also had one of the biggest pop songs; album flopped. Robin Thicke’s new one is mid-flop, selling 500 copies in England first week. Coming off a monster smash.

      • jw

        There should be metrics that can be used… radio play, tour attendance, social metrics, youtube views, etc, that can be used to place artists at similar levels of success, & once you find two similarly successful artists, one who forewent streaming & the other who didn’t, we should be able to compare downloads/sales & get an idea of how streaming effects an artist’s bottom line. Obviously you’d start with a windowing band & find a non-windowing analogue, & once you’ve found a handful of sets, a pattern should start to appear.

        For as much as Paul speculates about windowing, I’d love to see DMN take on this type of analysis.

        • GGG

          Yea, I mean, I’m sure we could find something to get close enough. I guess I meant more in terms of comparing an artist with themselves.

          I’m still waiting for Thom Yorke to release some post-take down Eraser numbers. See if he’s sold any substantial amount since taking it off Spotify. If he was so adamant about it, he should show us he was right (or wrong).

      • There is something...

        And some people will just say “fuck it, I’ll torrent it”! I think that real fans will buy their favorite artists album, no matter it’s streamed or not. Casual fan on the other hand may go the torrent way without remorse if they can’t conveniently stream the music they want to listen.

        • GGG

          Yea, exactly, that, too. So it’s not simply finding that golden ratio of sales to streams, it’s actually sales to streams to illegal DLs, too.

  10. Dave

    Spotify have all the tunes (in the UK) With this type of artist, there are normally only 1 or 2 decent tracks on the album. So, in this case, iTunes users are being pushed to buy the album. The vast majority of these users will soon realize that most of the album is rubbish!

    Then they will drift to streaming.

  11. Willis

    It’s a stretch to connect the two (opting out of Spotify and downloads surging) as he is doing a lot of promotion (shows, tv, etc.).

  12. Rick Ellis

    The potential downside of “windowing” – at least if you’re a newer artist – is that streaming gives people a chance to hear the deeper album tracks and hopefully decide you have other stuff worth buying. But there’s all sorts of windowing experiments, like Springsteen streaming “We Take Care of Our Own” on Spotify until it was well known enough for people to want to buy. In general, I don’t most artists can afford to keep their stuff off streaming.

    Another interesting aspect of the windowing discussion is the number of older tracks that are only available for purchase. It’s amazing how many one-hit wonders from the 70s and 80s are only available on Spotify with “re-recorded” versions of their hit.

    • jw

      This is an interesting point.

      Does the availability of an album for stream (i.e. easy access to the non-single tracks) affect the single downloads vs album downloads ratio?

  13. Veteran - US MUSIC INDUSTRY 1970-today

    Very important for local artists to understand — removing streams from your portfolio will not increase your download sales. For the local artist today, physical off stage is still the dominant sales strategy. Of my 40+ clients, only a couple have digital sales that exceed physical. Streaming has not affected a single one. The reason is scale. Artists like Sam Smith are INTERNATIONAL in scale. Most local artists have very well defined market shares.

  14. Anonymous

    Interesting. But I can not stand that man’s haircut. For fucks sake man!