Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

T-Swift v. Spotify: The battle over dying album sales

(Eva Rinaldi/Flickr)
(Eva Rinaldi/Flickr)

Pop music superstar Taylor Swift’s crusade against online music streaming service Spotify has blown up over the past few weeks into a grand debate over proper compensation and royalties for artists in the digital age.

Preceding the launch of Swift’s most recent album, “1989,” the country-turned-pop musician abruptly pulled her entire discography off of Spotify, later expressing disagreement with the company’s alleged “perception that music has no value and should be free.” Swift was speaking in reference to Spotify’s often criticized policies regarding the compensation of its musicians. Spotify then fired back, with CEO David Ek penning a blog post in which he sympathizes with Swift’s valuation of the music industry, while citing that the artist was projected to earn more than $6 million over the course of a year, with that number ever increasing.

With no end in sight, both parties seem locked in an ideological stalemate. However, upon further inspection, it becomes readily apparent that Swift’s money-minded publicity stunts completely undermine the legitimate criticism over Spotify’s artist compensation policy.

Shortly after Ek’s blog post, Swift’s label claimed that the singer had only received $500,000 from streaming her music on Spotify, a “fact” cherry-picked out of relevant data for the sake of pleading her case. That is the amount Swift received from music streaming in the United States alone ‒ the actual amount is closer to $2 million globally. Furthermore, Swift’s label makes the comparison that what the artist “had been paid (by Spotify) is the equivalent of less than 50,000 albums sold.”

This emphasis on record sales provides a critical insight into the mindset that guides Swift’s actions, and the type of thinking which continues to place an obsolete music industry at odds with online music streaming services.

The fact that Swift chose to begin her righteous battle against Spotify only a few days after the launch of her new album is extremely telling. Up until late October and the launch of “1989,” not a single album had been certified platinum at all in 2014. Then, several days before the one-week deadline, Swift pulls all of her albums off of Spotify, including “Shake It Off,” which, ironically, Swift had exclusively featured on Spotify in the weeks leading up to the album launch.

All that matters to Swift are record sales and the profits that come along with them. Her lofty moral stance shunning the evils of online streaming services as exploitive don’t hold up under even the slightest bit of scrutiny ‒ after all, “1989” is available for streaming on paying-user-only services like Google Music All Access and Amazon.

While her argument is grounded in the justified notion that Spotify’s system needs to be reworked to better compensate artists for their playtime, Swift’s aggressive pursuit of further profit makes it nearly impossible to take her grievances seriously. In last year’s very similar dispute between Spotify and Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke, the streaming service revealed that the average song earns only about $.007 per play for its artist, taking into account the majority of revenue going to record labels.

There is almost certainly a better way to do this, but this trend is reflective of an outdated record label industry, not of online music streaming being inherently bad. Furthermore, it seems tasteless for Swift to trivialize the “mere” half million dollars she claims to have been paid by Spotify, an amount almost 10 times the average household income of the United States.

Other musicians have also chimed in with criticism of Swift’s stunt, some of whom are more representative of the average Spotify artist than the superstar herself. Rap artist Hoodie Allen, whose music can be found on almost every social media platform and streaming service, including Spotify, “respectfully disagrees” with Swift’s logic in a series of tweets.

“There are a lot of ways to be compensated for your art nowadays… streaming does not equal stealing,” Allen wrote. “Fan loyalty will drive ticket sales, album and merch sales and music discovery will grow you even bigger.”

Dave Grohl, frontman of the Foo Fighters, also offered his two cents, saying, “You want people to f**king listen to your music? Give them your music. And then go play a show. They like hearing your music? They’ll go see a show. To me it’s that simple, and I think it used to work that way.”

I tend to agree with Hoodie and Dave. In a world driven by social media, in which an aspiring artist can bring his music to anyone with an Internet connection, it seems foolish and backwards to think about record sales and profit margins as the sole indicators of a musician’s worth.

Pulling her music off of Spotify has already helped Taylor Swift move more CDs, but it certainly won’t help her reach a broader audience. The record industry had been dying long before Spotify came along, and now the increased exposure it can bring to any would-be musician will only accelerate that death. In spite of what some might think, all exposure is good exposure.

Johnny McCabe is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].

View Comments (1)
More to Discover

Comments (1)

All Massachusetts Daily Collegian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • M

    Matthew ThorntonNov 19, 2014 at 11:07 am

    It’s all a sham. The bailed on Spotify to sell herself to Google. The only way to reach that top level of visibility as a musician is to turn yourself into a product. Anyone worth listening to doesn’t care if you download their album – the current generation of music makers grew up with Napster and Limewire.