On Spotify and Music Consumption
This is a post about Spotify, about the things I said, others said, and my responses in kind yesterday on Twitter and Facebook.
I spent a good deal of time yesterday thinking about and discussing aspects of the flaws and strengths of streaming services. I asked, via Twitter, where to go to buy a digital copy of an album I wanted, and, unprovoked, slagged off Spotify in the process. I didn’t mean to, but did broach a somewhat passionate debate on a subject in which we and you that support us have a vested interest: music consumption. Discourse is incredibly important. We’re thankful that people can be open and honest with their beliefs, no matter the thrust or force of those beliefs. This post is meant to clarify mine.
On to the point:
Spotify in and of itself isn’t evil. It’s value as a promotional tool and a browsing resource is undeniable.
However, the way people use it and similar services is screwing musicians (and comedians). It’s also screwing anyone who uses it to feed the weird addiction to massive quantities of music that a lot of people seem to have these days.
Music shouldn’t be free. It shouldn’t even be cheap. If you consume all the music you want all the time, compulsively, sweatily, you end up having a cheap relationship to the music you do listen to. In turn, this kind of market makes for musicians who are writing with the burden of having to get your attention, instead of writing whatever they’d write if they were just following artistic impulses. It’s increasingly difficult and un-rewarding to write music that is considered, patient, and simple* when the market increasingly demands music that is easy, thoughtless, and careless.
We shouldn’t have everything we want all the time, not in music or anything else. The only reason we do have that relationship to music right now is because we’re taking advantage of technology and a lack of regulation. It makes sense. If that technology did the same thing for food or shelter, we’d be talking about that. Don’t tell me though that this is a consumer-dictated market; it’s this way because we’re taking advantage of it, not because we thought up and implemented a good way of doing things. Like I said before, just cause it’s so doesn’t make it right.
I’m writing this for selfish reasons. I want to be able to continue to make even a meager living doing this, because I love writing and playing music. I love listening to it possibly more than making it. If people decided my music wasn’t worth their attention, and I never put it in public again, I’d still be talking about this, wanting people who make great music to be able to keep making it, or in cases where they’re still making it but no longer bothering to subject it to a hostile market, to bring it back into the public again. I don’t want us to continue to lose touch with good music.
“Don’t be ruled by the market. art is supposed to be your way of escaping all that bullshit, not just another feeble manifestation of it.” – @theluyas
What’s missing is regulation, preferably by the consumer demanding not to get screwed.
It’d be ideal if the free and cheap services that Spotify offered had some limitations.
It’d be really something if people recognized and cared that they were getting cheated by the kind of relationship to art and music that corporate interests have made for them.
Do you think that’s possible? Do you think there are better ways? Do you still disagree?
Ask us a question or make your point on Tumblr (preferably), Twitter, Facebook, or our website, and we’ll do our best to respond.
Ps. If you’re interested in statistics, jump down.
* – Simple here is used to denote a thing that holds a lot of weight but carefully reduces it to its purest form. This is something I respect over almost anything in the songs of musicians I love.
Here are some of the things that people said to us, and some the same arguments as above broken down as replies:
1) “Music should be free because consumers dictate the market, and they want it free.”
Consumers didn’t dictate this. Technology did. If technology provided loopholes for free food and shelter, that’s what we’d be arguing about. The truth is that the internet is an evolving technology, and we have a say in the evolution of this part of it. We, as consumers and humans, are bound to exploit advantageous situations; this is no different. However, if consumers don’t think about this and pursue a course that’s different than the one we’re on now, music will continue to suffer.
2) “Physical albums are too expensive.”
$15 isn’t unreasonable for a CD. $20 isn’t unreasonable for a vinyl album. You’re paying for the recording process, manufacturing, packaging, distribution, promotion, a quality product (one would hope), and a supplemental income for artists and labels.
Some albums cost slight more than this. This is because they’re made to (hopefully) blow your mind. A lot of musicians today who still work with vinyl are pushing for 180 gram vinyl and 45rpm, both of which make for incredible-sounding records. Likewise, a lot of musicians are offering higher-resolution album downloads. Similarly, some people offer colored or engraved vinyl, elaborate packaging, etc. They do all of this because they want you have something that means something, something that isn’t completely disposable. In comparison, low-res mp3’s are complete garbage.
3) “Streaming sucks now but it will get better”
Maybe. I’ll accept that. You know, though (don’t you?), that it won’t get better unless people demand that it gets better. Businesses don’t correct themselves to pursue ethical practices vs. profit without somebody making them do that.
4) “I used Spotify to find your music”
I used Spotify to find your music, too, if you are Liars or Steve Moore. Like you, I then went and bought those records, cause they’re great! It would be fantastic if everybody bought the music they found and loved via Spotify. You may have standards, but more and more of us accept that cheap/free is the way things are with music now, and they don’t go out and buy the albums they like, and musicians get screwed, and music consumers develop a cheap relationship to music and thus get screwed, too.
5) “Vinyl is precious and ridiculous”
You didn’t say why though, and your points are anything but self-evident, so I’ll just say that vinyl is also a vastly superior audio format when compared to compressed digital files, and it’s the way many musicians would like you to hear their music. The argument between vinyl and high-resolution digital formats is largely a subjective one. However, I will point out this quote from Neil Young: “”Steve Jobs was a pioneer of digital music. His legacy is tremendous. But when he went home, he listened to vinyl.”
6) “People only listen to streaming services on their PCs”
And their iPhones, iPod touches, iPads, other smartphones…
7) “Record companies rob artists of profit more so than streaming”
A common independent deal is the 50/50 deal, wherein a label pays for everything up front, and then recoups (takes back via profits) their costs, after you which you and your label split the remaining profits. If your record costs $40k, and your record makes $100k, you get $30k. If Spotify paid you for an equivalent amount of plays on their paid subscription service, you’d get $1250.
Some statistics on how streaming, digital and physical sales compare:
In the US, ITunes pays the artist AND label $0.70 per song dowload. They then divide that according to the artist’s contract.
Streaming Price Index : Current Streaming Pay Rates as of 12/31/11
Payable to Artist/Label via digital distributor for sales from Jul to Dec 2011 *
[This is the equation: (# of plays) = (total $ paid) / (cents per play)]
50,822 = $668.57 / .013 [53:1 Itunes Song Download]
798,783 = $4,277.39 / .005 [140:1 Itunes Song Download]
* these figures are from an independent catalog of 87 albums / 1,280 Songs – BEFORE the distributor’s cut/fee.
By the way, these stats only account for plays on the Spotify paid subscription service. Plays from ad-funded streams pay more like .0009 cents. Numbers for every artist are different, I think, and I don’t know what ours are. But I looked around and found other peoples’ numbers and have a general idea.
Here’s an estimate of what happens to 5k of our albums, illegally downloaded, streamed in free Spotify, streamed in paid Spotify, bought digitally, and bought physically.
Illegally downloaded – $0
Streamed (free, ad-funded, 20 plays from 5k ppl) – $900
Streamed (paid subscription, 20 plays from 5k ppl) – $2500
Digital purchase (averaged; $1/album) – $5000
Physical purchase (averaged; $3/album) – $15000
That might happen for us over the course of a year. In fact, if does, we think we’re doing pretty good.
Five of us made the record. We pay a manager. For a year, in this scenario, each one of us gets this:
Illegally downloaded – $0
Streamed (free, ad-funded) – $153
Streamed (paid subscription) – $425
Digital purchase (averaged) – $850
Physical purchase (averaged) – $2550
Take from that what you will. Also, bare this in mind: we might sell 10k records a year. According to last.fm, we have about 100k listeners. How many of you use last.fm?