Friday, November 21, 2014


There probably aren't too many people that don't have at least some knowledge of Taylor Swift's recent decision to remove her entire catalog from streaming music service Spotify. The story was picked up by many media outlets when it broke, and has been inspiring many artists to speak out and offer their take on the matter since then. Suffice it to say that the decision hasn't exactly hurt sales of Ms. Swift's latest album, but it is also worth noting that she is one of the few people in the music industry at the moment who could realistically afford such a move, especially in light of Billboard's recent announcement that they will begin counting song streams towards their Top 200 albums chart.


In the long run, Taylor almost certainly will add her music back onto the service, so why even bother removing it in the first place? She claims that it is because Spotify specifically is undervaluing music and that she is taking a stand for art and artists everywhere. While that altruistic goal sounds nice and all, it's really a bunch of bullshit. It is true that Spotify, and other streaming services, pay artists under $0.01 per song stream, which is significantly less than they were earning back when people actually bought albums, but it is also much more than the $0.00 they receive every time someone illegally downloads their album, something that the streaming services have been helping to prevent. And while the amount of money each artist receives per stream is beyond negligible, when enough people are listening to the same songs, the money can add up really quickly, as evidenced by the chart below, which shows the approximate earnings of each of the 20 most popular songs on Spotify during just the month of October, before Taylor Swift decided to remove her music.

via TIME

Of course, the vast majority of bands and musicians don't get nearly as many plays per month as the biggest pop hits do, and therefore aren't making nearly as much money in royalty payments. That being said, many artists receive something that the very closed off nature of old promotional methods like radio and MTV did not allow them, and that's exposure. Exposure alone won't pay the bills, but it makes sure that people actually show up to your concerts or buy your merchandise, and even for the top earners, those are often responsible for a much bigger portion of their income than sales ever were.

In her arguments about the value of music as art, she compares people listening to her music on Spotify to people viewing paintings in a museum. In a comment to Yahoo she said, "I felt like I was saying to my fans, 'If you create music someday, if you create a painting someday, someone can just walk into a musem, take it off the wall, rip off a corner off it, and it's theirs now and they don't have to pay for it.' I didn't like the perception it was putting forth." Since she brings up the analogy though, the paid model of Spotify is in fact quite similar to a museum, in that one pays a fee and is then able to listen to as much or as little music as they want, much like when one pays admission to a museum and is then able to view as much or as little art as they want. In neither case does anyone actually get to keep anything. She may be referring to the free model that Spotify offers, which has many limitations on use and is of course not actually free, as one is forced to listen to ads every so often. Oddly enough, despite radio following this same format, she has yet to have removed her songs from any radio stations. Nor has she removed her videos from YouTube, which is likely where most of her fans now listen to music online, and which currently doesn't charge anyone for anything.

In another interview she claimed she was doing this for her fans, so that those who went out and actually paid for the album wouldn't feel awkward (or something) when they later discovered that their friends were listening to "1989" for free (or free-ish) on the internet. Of course this ignores the fact that this is still certainly happening as her back catalog is still available on many of Spotify's competitors, and even worse, her entire catalog is obviously floating around on several illegal free downloading sites. But perhaps the most damning point against this argument is that if she was really so concerned about the value her fans felt they were getting for her albums, she wouldn't allow Target to be the exclusive retailer of the "deluxe" version of the record, featuring 3 songs that aren't available on the version at other retailers. So, if you actually still buy physical albums, and are unlucky enough to be stuck with a lowly Walmart in your town, you apparently aren't as important to Taylor. And yes, you could order it online, but if you're comfortable doing that, you are somewhat likely to be at least considering using a service like Spotify, or at downloading it from iTunes or Amazon, neither of which is allowed to sell the deluxe version in the United States.

So, why would someone so concerned about the integrity of her art and the feelings of her fans do something that seemingly negates those very ideas? Obviously because Target offered her a boatload of money. And really that's what this all comes down to. And that's fine. This is America, if you want to be greedy, you're certainly welcome to be. But don't pretend you have some higher, altruistic purpose behind your motivations. Just admit you want more money and be done with it.