The Editor’s view on Spotify

It’s probably a pretty heavy act of hubris on my part to think that anyone gives two shits about my views on Spotify. But fuck that. I’m going to spew my bile on the subject anyway.

The debate surrounding Spotify, particularly within the underground of modern music is seemingly never-ending. And I’m not about to end it here. But hopefully someone will take something from this. Even if it just confirmation of their suspicions that I am certainly a cunt.

First off, I actually quite like the idea of Spotify. It’s an adaptation to an ever-changing industry. That kind of thing intuitively sits well with me. That steaming is also a more ‘official’ way to ‘try before you boy’ than torrenting so it serves to take down that old argument to a large degree. Downloading an artists music for free if they do not endorse that approach is  theft. You’ll never convince me otherwise of that. yeah I like the romantic idea that ‘file sharing is tape trading for a new generation’ but at least one person back then had to buy the fucking tape. I like that Spotify offers various models to encourage people to use it, ranging from free to a full membership totally devoid of adverts. For the amount of streaming time you get it’s a damn good deal.

I also actually like the program itself and its various features. The mobile app version is also high quality. The recent integration with Facebook is an inspired move as I enjoy catching the occasional glimpse of a friend listening to a band that either a) I also love or b) are laughably shite. Either way its a nice little connection and on a couple of times I’ve sought out artists based purely on my news feed showing me that a friend whose musical opinion I trust and found myself a wee gem or two. Word of mouth wasn’t killed by the internet, it just become more selective about how often it was shouting and who to.  Not that the whole personalized play list thing is that new. MSN messenger had a ‘what you’re listening to’ function. iTunes also has a similar playlist system with the ability to share but Spotify’s system just reaches a few more people because of its public information sharing via Facebook. The various applications you can run within the program itself, one based around the artists involved in PIAS organisation for example, are also pretty cool.

Along with this I like that even as an unsigned artist you can make your way onto Spotify. It’s not an elite domain of the signed artist or the megastar. Sure, it costs and there’s not a single guarantee anyone other than those who already know of your existence will ever find you there, but you can be there. And much like the way this works with iTunes, just saying to people your music is available on such sites gives you more validity in their eyes.  Thus making said persons approval worth about £40. Some people really can be bought that cheaply.

All of this essentially amounts to the well-worn point: streaming is great promotion for an artist. Spotify being the leading streaming service today. Unless of course you count YouTube which I do. I don’t think anyone could argue that.

YouTube is great because no matter what size of band you are you can upload your material to it, in a pretty high quality format, and share it about via any website ever pretty much as YouTube is pretty much universally embeddable. And it doesn’t cost a penny. Unless you’re paying for an account with larger video lengths that is. I’m told Spotify does offer the same embedding capability now, but I’ve tried to use it several times now on this site and it has NEVER worked. So maybe YouTube doesn’t have that advantage on Spotify. But Spotify does cost money to get yourself onto.

Not that I disagree with that. You have to pay for a distribution service. No one works for free after all. And obviously money can be made from Spotify, and we live in a culture where we are free to pursue wealth, so why shouldn’t someone make money from it. It seems those at the top of the business certainly are. The man behind Spotify for example, Daniel Ek, has earned £190 Million in the last 6 years. Obviously much of that may come from deals with advertisers as well as the money from subscribers to the services and those who pay to be a part of it such as labels. I wouldn’t be so stupid as to claim otherwise. But that does make you wonder, if there’s room for such mind numbing profit in the whole thing surely artists get something resembling a good deal? I know plenty complain but aren’t they just greedy? The whole thing just seems to stink of money.

£0.0018 per stream

That’s the average royalty revenue per Spotify stream for a song according to independent, and the bestest, label Basick Records. Bare in mind as well Basick have a distribution deal with ADA, who are part of Warners. It’s largely known that the major labels have a deal for a better cut from Spotify. If the better cut of the royalties is £0.0018 per stream then what do entirely label independent artists get? We can all safely guess at pretty much fuck all.

That question has been helpful answered by this pretty insightful article into the Spotify stream pay out from an independent perspective. I more or less understand it, but money has never been my strong point. Have a read at it. It’s worth while. While the author of said article, Hans Handgraaf, is much more pro-Spotify I don’t find myself convinced. I take his point that part of the problem is the volume of Spotify. It’s massive, but it’s still only a tiny percentage of the internet who use it. In time, maybe such a royalty rate won’t seem so absurd with the numbers on board.

Mathematics as obviously on his side there. But one particular Spotify story always sticks in my mind. I interviewed the head of Basick Records , Nathan Phillips, earlier this year and heard this story. For one month the Chimp Spanner album ‘At The Dream’s Edge’ was steamed 2,00o times. The royalty for that month was approximately £1.80. I think we can all agree 2,000 listens to an album is a considerable number in an age where it takes fewer and fewer sales to chart is no mean achievement. I’m not convinced that £1.80 is really all that’s been earned from the hard work, dedication and love that was put into that album. Of course, for all I know everyone who played it has also bought the album. But for all I know it was one dude who refused to buy the album but wanted to listen to it 2,000 times over.  There may well be mileage in the argument that over the passage of time constant streaming of an album will amount to more than individual sales money, which is obviously a one-off payment.

That said, there’s much more mileage in some buying the album, and then using the streaming service for the sake of ease. Perhaps when they’re at work, at a party or just can’t be bothered moving from the computer to the CD changer. CD royalty + stream royalty strikes me as more of a winning combination than either or on their own.  Because while the romantic in me loves the physical record, and wishes everyone else did as much as me, I understand not everyone is the same. I don’t hate streaming, which hopefully is clear. I don’t hate Spotify. I just don’t like the royalty pay-out.

That and one other thing. Its generational, and shows my age more than the grey hairs in my beard ever will, but Spotify is replacing CDs for so many. That’s the real danger. It’s not the danger of low quality torrents for free, which often did encourage people to eventually buy for the better quality of the physical or iTunes endorsed version. It’s the danger that people will no longer see any need to place any value on the physical version of the music anymore. It’s all just going to be 3G, wi-fi and more 1′s and o’s than I can ever count. That’s where I see the real danger. The idea that free streaming is how ALL music should ALWAYS be available to everyone. Maybe its an overreaction to see this particular approach to streaming as suddenly devaluing the physical product. Perhaps I slid all the way to the end of the slope without realizing, but the slope is there. And it certainly is fucking slippery.

it’s why I prefer the Bandcamp model. Free to use, they take a very small cut of the money you earn, YOU decide and let the fans decide how much they want to pay. You can even turn it into a .com and sell physical versions of your album and merch from your Bandcamp page. All linked into your Facebook, Twitter and all other feeds really easily. And least we forget, who doesn’t love the option to download the release in question in ANY format you like? Audiophiles rejoice at the FLAC option, and the space conscious throw fists in the air at the compressed MP3 versions. I love Bandcamp for all these reasons and more. And it allows you FREE streaming of ever release. Now you can even do pre-order deals and all sorts of excellent promotional ideas. Bandcamp just doesn’t have the reach of Spotify yet.

Spotify caught the music fans. Bandcamp caught the musicians themselves.

Really what I want is the Bandcamp model and approach in the Spotify packaging. If that was the case, I think we’d all be winning.

But for now, I’ve no idea who is going to win. Not the first fucking idea.

The below image says it all.

C.McMillan

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