Last week, Taylor Swift shocked the world when she pulled her music from Spotify. A media frenzy ensued, with musicians, newspapers and executives clamoring to answer a question as old as [digital] time: Does the popular streaming platform help or hurt musicians?
Now that the pink sequin dust has settled, however, the real debate can emerge. Is Spotify’s artist compensation agreement, which hovers between $0.006 and $0.009 per play, fair? Maybe not. But is a full-on boycott the right plan of attack? Definitely not.
Whether Tay likes it or not, we all know that streaming is the way of the future. The question now is how to drive revenue to these platforms so artists can get paid. So far, most consumers seem to feel this money should come from ad sales, not paid subscriptions. And unfortunately, most who find Spotify’s $10 price tag too high—roughly the cost of two Pumpkin Spice lattes— probably aren’t en route to Target. They’re finding other ways, like YouTube and BitTorrent, to listen for free.
DA Wallach, Spotify’s official artist-in-residence, has some thoughts of his own. A certified rockstar who has collaborated with Rick Ross and Diddy, Wallach is just one of the many musicians helping to solve this problem. He recently spoke with Paste, using Swift Gate as lens through which to explore the impact streaming has on music.
Paste: You are, first and foremost, a musician. Is all of your music on Spotify?
Wallach: When I was first starting out [as the lead singer of Chester French ], I realized that sending our fans to Spotify was just as good a way—if not a better way—to make money. Models of the past, like paid downloads and cd’s, just aren’t sustainable. The world we occupy today, unfortunately, is a world where the vast majority of listening is free: Radio, YouTube, piracy, etc.
Take Taylor Swift. She can sell a couple million records, no problem—but she has 40 million fans on Facebook. So where are the other 38 million people who didn’t buy her album? Because you know they’re listening. Most likely they’re on YouTube, or downloading it illegally. If listeners can’t get an album on Spotify, most of them aren’t going to rush out and buy it. They’re going to find it for free.
Paste: So you don’t think removing music from Spotify helped Swift sell albums?
Wallach: Some people think pulling music from Spotify will guilt listeners into buying an album, but there really isn’t any evidence to support that. The majority of people will go and pirate the music, or listen to it on YouTube for free. In fact, the most popular download on BitTorrent last week was 1989.
Pulling music from Spotify only hurts musicians in the end, because listeners aren’t going to pay for Spotify unless it has all the music they want. And without paid subscribers, Spotify can’t pay their artists. So even if this helped Taylor in the short term, she’s shooting the industry in the foot. Look at it this way—do you subscribe to cable channels that don’t have your favorite shows? No. So why would music be any different? And without that money, compensation will never be fair.
Paste: You bring up an interesting point. Even though paid streaming services for film and television, like Netflix or Hulu, are just as popular, they don’t get attacked as often as Spotify.
Wallach: Fortunately for those industries, internet speeds didn’t support the piracy of video content. And consumers have such different expectations for music. No one gets mad at Netflix when they don’t have every movie available the day it’s released in theatres—but people expect that of Spotify. And again, consumers aren’t going to pay for that subscription unless their expectations are met.
Paste: Do you think Spotify’s current method of compensation is fair?
Wallach: The thing that people don’t realize is that there is actually more room to make money when you’re paid by play, as opposed to being paid per download. On Spotify, you earn money every time someone listens to your music. But with iTunes, you get the $0.99 and that’s it. So the artists who make music people will listen to for a long time—something we all aspire to do —are actually benefiting from the streaming model. To date, Spotify has paid more than $2 billion in royalties.
The other thing about Spotify is that it pays all artists the same, whether you’re Taylor Swift or a local garage band. It supports artists equally regardless of celebrity.
Paste: Speaking of celebrity, singer Betty Who recently told Mashable that Spotify forces musicians to become celebrities, as plummeting record sales make paid events and product promotions a necessary evil. Is this true?
Wallach: The honest truth is that it’s really hard for people to make a living in music. And if artists aren’t incentivized to create, we’re going to miss out on some really valuable music. Almost all musicians today have to take on endorsements, advertisements and corporate gigs in order to survive.
But music streaming hasn’t created new problems; or even exacerbated pre-existing ones. The biggest loss in value occurred when piracy, which is still a big problem today, convinced people that music wasn’t something you have to pay for. And Spotify is working day and night to recover revenue that is lost to piracy and free streaming platforms.
Emily Siegel is a freelance writer whose pieces have appeared in Mashable, Haute Living and Elite Daily. Her favorite animal is the Rockhopper Penguin (even if she’s jealous of their flair). Follow her on twitter @emilysiegel.