Music Access Rather Than Ownership

Taylor Swift performs in St. Louis, Missouri in 2013 Photo Credit: Jana Zills

Taylor Swift performs in St. Louis, Missouri in 2013
Photo Credit: Jana Zills - (photo reformatted for this post)

There's been a lot of talk in the music press about terrible payouts for musicians coming from Spotify and to some degree YouTube.  Some of the biggest headlines last Fall were around news that Taylor Swift would be removing her music from Spotify.  

Is this a tipping point for artists making a stand against Spotify and their ilk for the poor revenue that artists are getting? Or is this just a superstar flexing her muscle?  I'd say it's a bit of both.

Scott Borchetta, CEO of her label Big Machine Label Group explained the motivation with a somewhat novel perspective. He said:  "We never wanted to embarrass a fan."  He goes on to say discuss the situation where a fan buys the album but that fan's friends suggest just getting it free from Spotify. He adds that if that happens, "We're being completely disrespectful to that superfan who wants to invest." (Quote from Nov. 7 interview on Sixx Sense with Nikki Sixx).

A star like Swift has the muscle to flex and the appeal to drive fans to the outlets that they prefer for distribution. And Swift certainly has the pull to make that work.  Perhaps if enough stars take this stance, there will be an incentive for Spotify to pay more or charge more for additional premium content.  Over time there could be tiered pricing for licensing the music or perhaps even for fans to have access to higher value content.  But taking songs off Spotify could drive fans back to the torrents that generate zero revenue. While stars like Swift can take this risk, other artist may not be able to afford cutting themselves off from access to fans.

While Spotify may have been the focus of artist ill feelings, they're not alone or even the worst in undercutting album sales, since payouts on Spotify are often higher than on YouTube.  YouTube may have settled with the record label years ago over licensing, but they may still not have all the legal rights required, if you believe super-manager Irving Azoff.  

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