I just cancelled my Spotify Premium membership.
Those who know me probably realise that this is huge for me.
I loved Spotify. When I originally discovered it, it was a light-in-the-eyes, Marcellus Wallace’s briefcase moment. When I signed up for Spotify premium I thought that it was a way of supporting artists directly, offering another way to sell their music. On top of this it was an excellent method of discovering new music.
Before Spotify, if someone mentioned a band and said you should listen to them, I had two or three choices -– I could borrow a copy of an album from a friend, play it, give it back and then buy it. Or I could buy it on spec and maybe hate it and never listen to it again. Or I could just pirate it -– either directly from my friend’s copy or from The Internets, and, if I had no friends that had the record or the type of music I wanted to hear, then I was stumped – piracy or blind-buying were the only options.
Then along came Spotify and, seemingly, a marvellous, glittering Fourth Way — track after track, album after album, sortable, playlist-ready, shareable and freely available. And that is important – freely available. Ok, so I paid a monthly premium for it or I had to listen to adverts and in a slightly lower quality (which, let’s face it, you’re not going to notice unless you have some serious equipment to play it back on) but essentially it was that magical word: FATPOD. Free at the Point of Delivery -– the way, in an ideal world, all art should be.
Suddenly, I could try new music at the click of a button. Not just a song or an album, but entire back-catalogues and an accompanying biography. I could follow an artist’s progression from debut to dotage, instantly and seamlessly and, if I liked it, I could buy the album, or all the albums. I could find other artists in a chosen genre or versions of a given song by a thousand different artists.
I loved it!
It was a lip-trembling moment of wide-eyed joy not equalled since Pinky succeeded in opening the vault at Fort Knox. I shouted and screamed and championed its cause left, right, and centre, until people grew bored of hearing about it from me. I thought it was win-win — a way to eliminate music piracy if we could just encourage enough people to use the service so that more and larger acts would make their material available.
I had a vision of Spotify championing the music and the artists, of freeing music up for the masses while still making money for the musicians. Rather naive of me, I know, but the alternative for downloading music at that point was pretty much piracy or nothing, unless you wanted DRM dictating how and when you listened to your music. At least, I thought, this was sending some money to the artists as I digitally restocked and re-lived my old vinyl collection.
So why cancel?
Well, I cancelled for pretty much the same reason I originally joined: I’m a musician, I love music and I believe in supporting the creators of things that I love, not just for some altruistic (or even non-altruistic) pay-it-forward sensibility, but because I want them to keep making the stuff that keeps me entertained.
However, the music industry is one of the few industries where the genuine makers of the art, the people who carry the art forward and breed the next generation of artist, are at the very bottom of the food chain. Back in the days of vinyl the recording industry was perhaps not balanced, but it was an ecosystem where the jobbing musician could survive, and in some cases even thrive. Sure, the record company fat cats were out there, chowing down, but there was money to be made and a halfway decent cut for the artist. The advent of the digital market though changed that. At first ignored by the labels, the internet was a bit of the Wild West for a while, until the industry noticed that their revenues were slowing down. Quite rightly, the Industry chaps decided that this would not do and they wanted a slice of the pie for their efforts.
On entering a brave new world one would think that the approach would be eyes-wide, arms open and baby steps. Unfortunately however, the industry fat cats were having none of that, and opted for a stance of blinkered belligerence and a nail-studded club in place of a peace pipe, flinging lawsuits here and there, stomping on the little guys that were the end user of their product, alienating them irrevocably. They didn’t want their fair slice of the pie: They wanted the whole pie. And the pie tin. And control of the oven that made the pie. And the pie delivery truck. And the very ownership of Pie — word and concept.
Unfortunately, with this being such a new arena, those in charge of judging the legality, blame and consequences of the initial free-for-all were at a loss for both precedence and context and instead of recognising the death of The Old Way, reverted to The Old Way’s rulings — not to bring back parity or equity but in a punitive, shock and awe kind of way: We won’t teach you the error of your ways, we will instead beat you to death with the book that explains those errors.
The end result is the situation as it stands, the knee jerk reaction of those early cases not restoring a status quo, but throwing mountains of digital profit at the labels that had made the noise and forgetting the artists themselves. Artists profits for vinyl sales could almost equal those for the record company. In the digital arena you’re lucky to see a tenth of the profit.
The recording industry is now a feeding frenzy — a fly-clouded mountain of bloated vultures, chomping on the carcasses of the labouring musicians beneath them, vomiting back just enough nourishment to sustain the muso-cattle’s output– while ignoring the fact that without the artists there would be no industry, no labels… and no Spotify.
And the sad Truth is, as you must know if you’ve been reading the news/twitter/facebook recently, that Spotify is simply an extension of the same outdated but self-perpetuating business model that that has kept the music industry an elite boys’ club for decades.
Having recently seen just how pitiful the artists royalties from Spotify play actually are (4/10000 of of a cent, anyone) I feel that it is very wrong of me to support the platform any longer.
It may be argued that the fault here lies with the record labels, that they negotiate the contract, but responsibility also lies with those people who support the record labels and their anachronistic business models.
Spotify could have changed all of this and made the playing field flat again.
Don’t believe that? Let’s do a bit of maths:
Spotify has over twenty million users. Now, I’m not even going to broach the filthy amounts of revenue a proven customer base of 20,000,000 users can generate in advertising exposure, but consider this: Of those users, over five million pay a premium of between £5 and £10 per month ($8-16). That means that the Spotify accountants are dealing with around twenty-five to fifty million pounds. PER MONTH.
That’s up to £600,000,000 per annum.
And that’s only counting the money made from 25% of their customer base.
That is a game-changingly obscene amount of money.
Some might say that Spotify have only been around since 2008 and could not possibly have foreseen their own popularity but, think about the point made above about convenience, about the huge, instant, global music collection. This is a service that could not fail. This was always going to be huge.
Spotify could and should have been something glorious, a chance to open up music to the world for various interpretations of Free, while still allowing the artist to make a very decent living from their music and still make a good profit for themselves.
Instead, they chose what has unfortunately become the mantra of the modern age -– get rich quick, which is usually followed by an under-the-breath “and fuck anyone who gets in the way”.
The record companies’ early posturing probably scared the then-newly-fledged Spotify into accepting draconian terms for their wares, but Spotify should have had, if not the foresight to see their own potential power, then the present day courage to stand up and admit the truth that the music industry seems to want to ignore:
The artists is everything.
These are the people you should be working to reward.
Without them you have no commodity.