Why Pulling Music From Spotify Only Holds Back The Artist Doing The Pulling
from the 1.-Eliminate-revenue-stream-2.-Gripe-about-it-3.-???-4.-Profit! dept
David Byrne, former lead singer of the Talking Heads, has pulled "as much of his catalogue" as he can from Spotify. Why? Because it's the thing to do these days. Abused math and sins of omission have led to headlines declaring Spotify to be the worst ripoff since the major labels, paying only pennies for millions of plays. Many artists have done it. Some are insulted by the low payoffs. Others believe it will cannibalize their sales.
Byrne's editorial for the Guardian names a few of these artists -- the Black Keys, Aimee Mann, Thom Yorke, etc. These artists have withheld their music from the super-popular streaming service simply because they've deemed the payout too low, and the risk of losing sales too high, to take part in the way people listen to music at the present. A rather strange about-face for Byrne, who previously lauded Radiohead's pay-what-you-want experiment and other efforts along that same line.
Dave Allen, formerly of Gang of Four and Shriekback (among others) has posted a very thorough and thoughtful response to Byrne's editorial. (And there's plenty to respond to. When you state, "The internet will suck all the creative content out of the world," with a straight face, you can expect to be thoroughly riposted -- from multiple angles.)
Along the way to what I feel is the simplest, most succinct point to be made in this Spotify "debate," Allen also points out how Byrne (along with Thom Yorke and others) are clouding the issue by couching the discussion of dispassionate themes (economic and technological shifts) in emotional language ("fairness," "ethical internet"). Critics of Spotify insist the royalty payouts are too low -- proof that the streaming service is evil -- despite the fact that these payouts are 70% of Spotify's revenue.
As for the decline of the recording industry -- which Allen takes pains to point out is not the same thing as the "music industry" -- it's been a long time coming. This doesn't mean music is dying -- only the industry that attached itself to musicians in a remora-like fashion and sucked as much income out as possible over the past several decades is dying. As Allen puts it in his post, the recording industry simply made it possible for artists to "pay off the mortgage, but never own the house" by providing advances in exchange for copyright control.
The industry was set up to fail -- an untenable construct that began to disintegrate upon the first sign of friction. What the industry considers to be right and fair and normal -- selling music to make money -- is nothing more than a blip on the timeline, as no less an old-school artist than Mick Jagger has stated.
[T]here was a small period from 1970 to 1997, where people did get paid, and they got paid very handsomely and everyone made money. But now that period has gone.But here's the ultimate point:
So if you look at the history of recorded music from 1900 to now, there was a 25 year period where artists did very well, but the rest of the time they didn't.
One thing is certain: When artists remove their music from Spotify they are simply ensuring that they will receive zero royalties from that service. They will also ensure that they are not in a service that provides massive distribution of their work that is not a walled garden like FM radio is. And remember, not all artists are popular therefore not all artists receive the same amount of royalties from airplay or from streaming services. It is worth noting that Spotify has one billion playlists created by users. Musicians are not the only creators. Internet users most likely make far more content to post to the Web for free than all musicians combined. It’s a societal phenomenon that can’t be denied.The first sentence is key. As has been stated here before, you cannot achieve a positive result simply by removing a negative. Labels and movie studios may spend tons of money fighting piracy, but that doesn't budge the needle towards a purchase. If millions of people are happy "renting" their music through streaming services (or YouTube), you can't push them towards a purchase by removing your music. They'll likely just find someone else to listen to, and when that artist tours or runs a Kickstarter or whatever, it's the artists they've been listening to that will receive that additional support.
All these artists are doing is shutting down a revenue stream under the mistaken impression that they'll pick up the money elsewhere. It may only be pennies, but it's pennies they don't need to lift a finger to collect. For every artist that has pulled their music from Spotify and pointed to first week sales as "proof" that ditching the world's most popular streaming service "works," there's another list of artists that have sold just as much without resorting to cutting out streaming revenue.
Giving music fans fewer reasons to use Spotify is also short-sighted. As a streaming services, its high end is only limited by the number of users. If enough artists pull out, the service loses some of its ability to attract users. Artists should want millions more to join, which is the most efficient way to increase royalty payouts. More users is more money. If Spotify manages to find a way to attract more paid users, the amounts will increase exponentially.
Cutting Spotify out doesn't make sense, no matter how small the checks are. You can't "force" sales, especially not when your attitude fails to sync with a majority of your potential customers.
[Bonus: here's some Shriekback for your listening pleasure, just in case your estimation of Dave Allen needed to be increased...]