The Spotify Issue: As “simples” as it seems?

1 Spotify

It’s the music streaming app which essentially grants immediate access to a hitherto-unthinkably broad library of music, either for free or for a low monthly fee. It’s also the enemy of countless musicians and industry figures who bemoan the devaluation of their hard graft. The debate surrounding Spotify – which began upon the company’s conception in 2006 – is as agitated as ever.

Personally, I can’t pretend to know all the answers. I won’t claim Spotify is perfect or that its critics are completely misinformed. This is a huge issue which varies in terms of benefits and liabilities depending on who / what is focused on, and such a hornet’s nest can’t be adequately unpacked in a single stroke. However, it is absurd to damn Spotify as an irredeemable antagonist of the integrity of musical creation.

Lynchpin detractors like Thom Yorke seem to think the issue is “simples”: a case of The Man crushing the little guy into penniless submission. But it’s this dogged insistence on binaries which is so flippantly unhelpful. Spotify need not exist in opposition to traditional forms of accessing music; instead, it is a springboard which allows greater access and distribution in economically limited times. Especially for earworm-hungry students who are already attempting to scrimp and save in every other facet of their daily lives.

Consider the benefits which have been wrought by the advent of legal streaming sites. There has been a downshift in music and film piracy in recent years, and while legal businesses such as Spotify and Netflix aren’t wholly responsible for such a shift, the 1 Thommycorrelation is interesting to observe. Furthermore, isn’t assuming that Spotify will bring about the death of the industry rather insulting to the loyalty of listeners? Has Yorke himself forgotten the successful response to the honesty-box release of In Rainbows? Even though a good proportion of customers did pay bobbins for the new material, let’s not forget how many copies of the £40 deluxe discbox also got shifted.

Essentially, if the quality is high, real fans will do more than simply listen – and this also applies to Spotify. Just because I use streaming sites to discover music for free does not mean that I refuse to fork out altogether. As of writing, I own upwards of 250 physical CDs and 30 records on vinyl. My bedrooms – both at home and in Leamington Spa – are plastered with music posters and promos, and I go to live gigs as often as is financially viable. Gifts and press commissions notwithstanding, this library has been paid in full. I’m sure the case is the same for many music-lovers: our contributions to the industry and its artists are not merely restricted to how we access albums.

Instead, if there is one problem which must be addressed, it’s the same issue which afflicts almost all avenues of distribution: the cut taken by labels and managerial companies. Spotify allegedly works on a meritocratic basis, with 30% of total revenues distributed to Spotify itself, while the 70% bulk is doled out to those in possession of the music rights. Of that percentage, the cut which goes to the artist depends on his/her particular contract with a label. Some labels offer as little as a 5% share, whereas others (such as Beggars Banquet) offer as much as a 50:50 split.

While the debate rages on about how beneficial / detrimental Spotify is to the music industry as a whole, it’s clear that there are more integral issues elsewhere which must be addressed; namely, in how fair the relationship is between artists and their parent labels. Perhaps this is what should be evaluated in full before we attempt to judge the value of Spotify and its own business model.

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This article was originally published as part of a debate piece for The Boar.


Posted on February 25, 2014, in The Music World and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. As someone who has music on spotify and therefore has a little experience of seeing it function as a platform from the production side of things i thought i’d just make a couple of points:

    1) spotify pays around $0.008 per full play of a track. i’m sure you’ll have seen the stat before but to put that into perspective, the 195 million plays Daft Punk’s Get Lucky got over summer translated into about $26,000. Not bad, perhaps, but then bringing that down to a human scale, or the scale of artists getting hundreds, or even thousands of plays rather than hundreds of millions, essentially demonstrates that spotify makes no money for the artist at all. There is essentially an agreement that musician’s don’t put music on spotify for financial gain, rather the exposure.

    2) despite this, there is very limited evidence that this exposure actually translates into CD sales. I haven’t received a single CD sale directly through spotify, nor through soundcloud, despite the fact that i can have hundreds of full plays in a day. The same goes for nearly every other musician I know.

    Certainly there are people like you and I who revel in buying CDs and owning physical copies of music, but there is a growing expectation that music should simply be free. Most other things on the internet are, after all. I don’t necessarily disagree, but while Spotify can generate huge profits, it is the individual artists who are ultimately losing out, unless there are some fundamental changes to the way musicians / artists etc actually get compensated..

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