A Stance On Spotify

The perennially hot topic of Spotify refuses to go away and put in another round this week, with Björk asserting that her leaked new album will definitely not be making an appearance on the music streaming platform.

The latest in a long line of responses to Vulnicura’s unplanned release saw the Icelandic auteur cite reasons of “respect” as her motivation to stay away.

Her other albums remain available on Spotify.

Björk labelled the streaming service “insane”, joining a list of high profile artists such as Thom Yorke and Taylor Swift omitting their music from the Spotify library.

I get where Björk is coming from.

“Spotify isn’t making music more accessible, but is in fact introducing a new level of discrimination”

The most convenient soundbite culled from the interview “It’s about respect,” seems somewhat packaged for our consumption, but it’s one that I can get on board with. Björk in fact makes a couple of different points in the incriminating interview, which was apparently culled from an exchange with her manager. I both agree and disagree with certain aspects of what she has to say, but at least she’s doing so refreshingly free of hyperbole.

My only bone of contention is Björk’s assertion that, “It’s not about the money,” seems to somewhat tie her in knots, but she manages to undo herself with her ‘respect’ comment. She just about gets away with it. I would contend in fact contend that it is all about the money, and that streaming services such as Spotify isn’t making music more accessible, but is in fact introducing a new level of discrimination into an already murky industry.

And don’t get me wrong, I think Björk makes a good point; a far better point than Fleet Foxes’ bleating did a few years back. As Dave Grohl sort of nearly said, if you don’t like your product selling for the price it sells at, fuck off. Find a different industry, there’s plenty out there.

No, to her credit, Björk is far more measured and cerebral about it. Sure, her comments are a little airy-fairy around the edges, a little soft on detail, but she seems to genuinely have an artistic problem with it. What makes Björk, Yorke, Grohl and even young Swift simultaneously more and less believable is that I doubt any of them experience money worries.

Obviously, they don’t have to pander to anyone in making up their paycheque. But then again it could be argued that such comments smack slightly lofty perchism, an untouchable artist flipping their two cents down from their ivory tower to the huddled masses without necessarily knowing a thing about what they’re on about.

To be sure, it’s a little of both. But first and foremost, I see listeners feeling the pinch as customers being the main problem. Tune out for a second if you wish, but bear with my thought experiment here.

To utilise Spotify in the way that the company’s predictably slick advertising suggests would cost a bare minimum of £9.99 per month. But hey, you want your music on the go, right? You’ll be listening using your phone then of course. If you really can’t live without knowing, this dude pretty comprehensively breaks down how much bandwidth streaming your music demands. But cutting a long story short, you essentially need unlimited data from your mobile provider to rely on music streaming as your main listening source. What, £20? A little less if you find a good deal. And I guess you’re gonna want the good stuff on tap, not waiting for apps to load or your 3G signal to pick up. Let’s charitably say you can pick up a mid-range iPhone 5S on an unlimited data contract for £30 per month. That’s forty you’re spending on Spotify already, champ; £480 per year, minimum. That’s not counting other downloads, the occasional CD you pick up, or your increasingly voracious appetite for vinyl. If you’ve got over £500 to spend then best of luck to you, but for me and I would suggest that for a lot of people, myself included, that’s a significant chunk of cash.

Music has never been about segregating people. Getting into a situation where it’s method of delivery is doing so, I would suggest is extremely negative to say the least. Certainly, any commodity is either something you can afford or not, music included, but Spotify seems to be pricing all but the more affluent listeners out of its market.

Despite their founder’s slightly spoiled brattish, dummy-spitting, toy-throwing statement aimed at Taylor Swift’s Spotify bow, the platform seems just as poor value on the artist’s side.

A wade through this some might say intentionally lengthy and complex document offers up the information that Spotify claim to pay out an average of about $0.007 per song per play. Or about 0.07 cents per song per play. So the average 12-track album would earn the artist just over 8 cents, which in the current exchange rate equates to around 5p. Uck. But wait, who listens to albums anymore? Only nobody, grandpa! Get with the times man! The kids all stream music by track these days; God, you’re so embarrassing.

This being the case, let’s go straight to the top and take for example the most-streamed song in the UK last year, Clean Bandit’s inexplicable minimal synthpop keyboard riff with song attached ‘Rather Be’, clocking up a whopping 39.7 million streams in 2014. Why, at $0.007 per play, that’s $277,900 in the bank! Not too shabby! #boom #sorrynotsorry

Yeah, 39.7 million streams. Across four streaming formats. With royalties split between four band members. Only two of whom claim writing credits in the song. Which featured a headlining collaborative artist. And I doubt the band will exactly be top of the pile once their record labels takes a cut, plus the produc-… you see where I’m going here… Maybe that’s why they took that awful, awful (I mean seriously painfully awful) Windows phone ad.

I’m not professing to be some sort of statistics genius, and I’ve wilfully ignored Spotify’s own artist page as far as possible due to the hefty weight of vested interest you can see in the form of all those glowing bright green graphs. I’m also quite aware that artists make money from other streaming services; advertising revenue from YouTube plays, for example. But to me, the sums just don’t seem to add up. Viewing Spotify as just one aspect of a multi-faceted music delivery system in which you stream some music, then buy or download those tracks or albums which you really like, also fails for me entirely.

“the membership-style method of payment is divisive in what should be an inclusive setting. It’s pricing consumers out of music”

It’s not just about money for bands in that regard, or indeed out of the listener’s pocket, but I think that returning to the two central tenets of Björk’s original argument, respect and money, are irrevocably intertwined.

It’s all bound up in numbers that don’t seem to meet in the middle. Listeners are being fleeced, either expected to subscribe to a conceptually limited streaming service, or to augment that library with further purchases. It’s like assuming every Netflix subscriber will either throw away all their DVDs and Blu Rays, or be often forced to also buy them if they really, really like that new Will Smith movie. Between what’s best for the artist and what’s best for the listener, Spotify falls cleanly through a very large gap.

So my stance on Spotify can be summarised as essentially this; I know it’s not all their fault. Everybody is out to make their respective sums of profit from the music industry – it’s a business like any other – and always have done.

But the membership-style method of payment is divisive in what should be an inclusive setting. It’s pricing consumers out of music, which is a pretty low blow for artists and the public alike.


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