Wednesday, 4 January 2012
To Spotify, or Not To Spotify?
(from previous blog - 31 October 2011)
I have been asked a number of times recently about Spotify. What do I think of it? Do I use it? Why are my albums not there, only singles? Well now I attempt to answer those questions.
Spotify was introduced as a laudable attempt to overcome one of the greatest issues in the age of digital music. Nowadays it is the work of but a moment, if you are so inclined, to illegally copy music and distribute it almost anywhere without any real fear of reprisal from the publishers or copyright owners. This is great for music lovers who get to hear the music they want without having to fork out for it. Some argue that it is also good for artists in the sense that more people will get to hear their work. But what good to an artist is exposure and popularity if they get nothing for it in return? As I know myself, you have to treat this game as a job the same as any other, and one expects to be paid for the job that you do. If no-one likes your music then you cannot expect them to pay for it, but they are also very unlikely to be inclined to copy it either. But if they do like it, they should expect to have to pay for the privilege of enjoying it in the same way as few pleasures in life are, with a few notable exceptions, free. If no-one pays for an artists' work, how can they expect that artist to buy new guitar strings with which to produce more?
So along comes Spotify and attempts to bridge that dilemma. By paying a modest monthly fee you have access to a huge library of online music that (depending on how much you pay them) you can listen to without limitation as if it was on your own iPod or in your own CD rack. Great, and as a user myself I love it. I can listen to pretty much any piece of music I am interested in without having to buy a CD or download. I remember thinking when I first signed up what a bargain this was. Previously the only legal way of achieving the same thing way to buy a CD or from iTunes or similar every time I wanted to hear a track. All the latest albums on tap any time you want them? - that would cost a lot more than £4.99 a month by any other means.
So that gives us our first clue that the artists may not be getting a fair deal. The problem with Spotify is that the dial is turned far too much towards the listener, not the artist. The economics simply do not add up. The artists and publisher is paid a percentage of the user's monthly subscription that roughly equates to the proportion of their listening time spent on that artists material. Its actually a lot more complex than this and of course Spotify themselves take a chunk, but you get the idea. Bottom line is that to make any kind of reasonable revenue from Spotify, thousands of users would have to listen to nothing but my material all the time. Let's face it, that's not going to happen much as I would heartily recommend it. You may have read recently some high profile stories of major artists receiving laughable royalty cheques from Spotify for songs that are at the top of the charts and have been streamed millions of times. You can imagine what it's like for those of us somewhat further down the food chain who don't get anything like the attention from users. I have calculated that based on experience so far, the cost to me of putting one song on Spotify will only be clawed back after several years at the current rates. And I am getting a healthy number of streams comparable with the sales of my music through other routes.
But that said, I certainly appreciate the exposure that Spotify can give someone like myself, even if only as a well adopted option to hear examples of my work. So I use it in the same way as most emerging artists, to make highlights of my work available in their entirety in the hope that anyone who likes it enough to want more can make an informed decision to buy the whole album from one of the more traditional routes. You may notice that even major artists and labels often delay release onto Spotify until the initial euphoria has died down and a decent album revenue has already been taken.
So in summary, I fully applaud the concept, and as a listener I love having it, it's just that the subscriptions need to be raised by an order of magnitude in order to give the music artists and owners any kind of meaningful recompense for the potential loss in revenue from other sources. The big labels and artists can afford more of a hit on it since their revenues are far less dependent on music sales than they used to be, now they are supplemented by merchandising, touring and licensing. But for us emerging artists who are doing daily battle with the paradox of wanting to be heard but also needing to make a living it can prove simply not worth it. My albums WILL be on Spotify one day, but not yet.
So I genuinely apologise to those of you who would like to see my entire catalogue available through Spotify, but I hope you will understand my reasons. And do consider this; you must have noticed how a bottle of wine tastes so much better in a nice restaurant :-)
As ever, all opinions expressed are my own and not necessarily those of my music. Please do let me know if you have another angle!