It’s been interesting to watch Taylor Swift career, from sort of country naif to record industry mega-star. Though I am not an avid listener, I appreciate her energy and talent. I was quite cheered by yesterday’s news that she poked Apple in the eye and compelled them to pay artists for their new “90-day free introductory” streaming service. Writing in a Tumblr post, Swift said:
“I say to Apple with all due respect, it’s not too late to change this policy and change the minds of those in the music industry who will be deeply and gravely affected by this,” Swift concluded. “We don’t ask you for free iPhones. Please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation.” (Washington Post)
The music business has endured so much the past couple of decades, I find this refreshing that an artist can flex his/her muscles and make the moguls sit up and take notice.
Streaming services are, in my view, the final race to the bottom to placate consumers who are no longer willing to pay for the music they consume. They’re handy because listeners don’t need much more infrastructure than a smart phone and some earbuds and they can listen to anything they want. Musichounds can listen to Spotify or Pandora for free and put up with the ads, or cough up a rather small monthly fee and dodge the ads. Streaming services are like clickbait-for every listener firing up a song the artist receives a royalty, much like that from radio stations, but far, far less per play. An artist receives between .6 and .84 cents per play according to Time.com. Though a top performer like Swift, or even a newcomer with a great song like Meaghan Trainor can earn $250K for a song in a year, those who are struggling to be heard, have paid out money to record, mix, master and press CD’s will often earn next to nothing for the privilege of having their songs played.
To her further credit, Swift did not forget them in her Tumblr post.
This is not about me. Thankfully I am on my fifth album and can support myself, my band, crew, and entire management team by playing live shows. This is about the new artist or band that has just released their first single and will not be paid for its success. This is about the young songwriter who just got his or her first cut and thought that the royalties from that would get them out of debt. This is about the producer who works tirelessly to innovate and create, just like the innovators and creators at Apple are pioneering in their field … but will not get paid for a quarter of a year’s worth of plays on his or her songs.
The internet has not been a wonderful thing for the music industry, particularly those at the bottom, new artists, working musicians: those who don’t have big distribution deals with Walmart or Target, those who aren’t on sponsored mega-tours earning a half million dollars per night. Before the streaming fiasco, artists fought with Apple over their take from iTunes. Before that there was the illegal file-sharing/piracy debate. Much of this was spawned by the greedy ineptitude of the record companies themselves, seeking to maximize their profits by unnecessarily soaking listeners with high CD prices.
But that feels like it’s going way back. Most of my students walking down the hallways of Emerald Ridge High School own few CD’s, or a CD player and have never illegally downloaded music. They have a Samsung Galaxy, or an iPhone 6 and a pair of headphones in their ears and are listening to the free playlists they’ve assembled on Spotify or YouTube, without really thinking about where it comes from and whether they owe anyone for the right to play it. Though the question of payment for play on streaming services has been raised before, hopefully Swift’s ultimatum to Apple will raise the consciousness of consumers, and help them see there is no free lunch.
This article is dedicated to two of my favorite artists-Pat Smyth, Rachel Angerman and their many hard working musician friends who struggle to have their music heard beyond the walls of their live performances.
In the interest of transparency: I do have a free Spotify account that I will rarely use. I prefer to own my music as my 12k MP3 files, 200+ CD’s, and rising number of vinyl records attest (currently about 350.)