The Sh*tstorm from Taylor Swift’s Spotify Spat Continues

It’s been a week since Big Machine, Taylor Swift’s record label, pulled her entire catalogue off Spotify, setting off all kinds arguments on both sides about (a) why they did it; (b) why this (or isn’t) a good idea: (c) the revenue issues involving streaming; and (d) the role of feminism in this dispute.  I did not make that last one up.

Let’s try to summarize what’s been said so far.

First of all, let’s take a listen to a interview conducted by Motley Crue’s Nikki Sixx (he has his own radio show) with Scott Borchetta, the head of Big Machine.

So it’s all about being against giving away music for free. Spotify wouldn’t agree to omit access to 1989 from anything other than their premium service.

Rdio was quick to point out that it’s still streaming Ms Swift’s songs albeit just for paying subscribers. And because you can’t get Pandora for free, they get to stay on board.

But what about YouTube? A quick search will yield streams of 1989 that are being accessed for free. And I’d be willing to bet that more people are getting 1989 through YouTube than Spotify’s basic offerings.

Spotify has been beaten up quite a bit for how it handles payouts to artists. “Good for Taylor!” say some. “About time someone took a stand against these tremendous ripoffs. Let’s hope others follow her lead!”

Or maybe it’s possible we’re looking at this the wrong way. Bono suggests that Spotify isn’t a bad idea at all. And then there’s this argument from a musician that frames things in a completely different way. From Business Insider.

The reason why demonizing Spotify is the wrong approach lies in the distinction between a symptom and a cause. Take your health, for example. When you sneeze or cough, those are symptoms of a sickness or affliction you have. The flu, allergies, or smoking too many cigarettes might be the cause of your problem. Having a runny nose and not being able to breathe properly are not the causes of your predicament, they’re the symptoms.

This distinction is not being made when artists denounce streaming music. They are ignoring established facts about the music business: it has always been a terrible business to be in; roughly zero percent of artists have ever made any real money doing it; and when there has been money to make it has largely been made by the owners, not the creators. The bad news for streaming music opponents—and the good news for artists—is that Spotify isn’t the cause of any of these problems. On the contrary, their stated goal is to chip away at a couple of these unfortunate realities. The true cause of artists not making money is the music business itself. It is saturated. It is expensive. It is grueling. It is risky. Spotify’s payout numbers are simply a symptom of this.

Read the whole thing here. It’s worth it.

And then there’s my take on the whole thing.  It’s all about (a) publicity; (b) maximizing high-margin sales; and (c) boosting the value of Big Machine in anticipation of selling it for big dollars.

Whatever the motivations, this whole tempest will be forgotten in a couple of months once Big Machine has sold all the 1989 CDs they can. You watch.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

3 thoughts on “The Sh*tstorm from Taylor Swift’s Spotify Spat Continues

  • November 10, 2014 at 8:55 am
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    I’m probably an outlier, but if anything Spotify has been responsible for my purchasing more music than I would have otherwise. Being able to take a band or a full album out for a “test drive” has quite frequently led me to buy their album and see them in concert when they swing through my town. With terrestrial radio playing the same artists and songs on repeat ad infinitum, streaming services have become my go to for discovering artists I wouldn’t even know existed.

    Reply
    • November 10, 2014 at 2:23 pm
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      Same here. I sample lots of albums on Spotify, and the ones I really love I buy (digital and occasionally on vinyl). Back in the day you basically had to guess based on album art or magazine reviews, it really wasn’t the best system.

      Also, the algorithms that Spotify uses to recommend similar artists are frighteningly accurate…it’s constantly suggesting albums I already own but have never listened to on the service. Almost creepy that it knows me so well…but then the fact that it knows what I like (much more than Pandora could ever figure out) is why I use it so often.

      Reply
  • November 13, 2014 at 10:14 am
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    I wrote about this whole thing over the weekend: http://cerebralrift.org/2014/11/10/swift-manipulation-and-byrnes-fire/

    Taylor Swift is just acting as a music industry mouthpiece who is trying to manipulate the fans and public opinion. She ignores a lot of facts to make her opinion known, and when the business arguments don’t make sense she turns to relationship / confessional non-arguments that are the equivalent of her “art”.

    Reply

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