This week, music diva Taylor Swift delivered a good news/bad news riff to her fans when she announced a world tour at the same time as she also pulled her entire catalog from the music streaming service, Spotify.
This comes on the heels of her new album, “1989,” the Oct. 27 release that is on track to have sold 1.3 million copies in its first week, according to Billboard.
Spotify, the popular British-Swedish online music streaming site, extended an olive branch to the singer-songwriter on its website: “We hope she'll change her mind and join us in building a new music economy that works for everyone."
While Spotify was urging Ms. Swift to #justsayyes in a social media campaign based on her 2008 hit song “Love Story," the decision by the singer and Big Machine Label Group to pull all of her songs point up the compensation problems that continue to roil the music industry. In fact, they’re evident in Spotify’s plea, says popular music historian, John Covach, director of the Institute for Popular Music at the University of Rochester in New York.
“These streaming sites pay nano-pennies to musicians,” says Profesor Covach. Anyone who is under the impression that streaming services such as Spotify, which pay royalties to the artists whose music they stream, are the ultimate answer to the conundrum of how to compensate musicians for their recordings, “needs to think again,” he says.
Covach notes that a recent blog post from a consortium of bands whose music is being streamed showed they received royalties in amounts of between $36 and $58 per month.
“The idea that these micro payments are going to build a meaningful model for artists’ compensation is just not realistic,” says Covach, “at least not yet.”
Spotify says that about 70 percent of its income goes to the artist.
Swift was one of the site’s most popular musicians. Some 16 million of its 40 million users streamed a Taylor Swift tune during the past 30 days, according to Spotify.
Swift penned her thoughts about the future of the music industry in The Wall Street Journal this past July, writing: “Piracy, file sharing and streaming have shrunk the numbers of paid album sales drastically ... Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for. It's my opinion that music should not be free."
Swift isn’t the first bestselling artist to withhold her music from the site. Beyonce, Garth Brooks, AC/DC, the Beatles, and Coldplay are among the other stars who at various times have not allowed Spotify users access to their catalogs. Her songs are still available for sale on iTunes.
In its search for a reliable source of income, Covach says, the music industry appears to be returning to the model that ruled musical entrepreneurship before the ascent of the recording industry: touring.
“We’re just seeing the main source of income going back to live performance,” he says.
“Back in the early R&B days, most artists saw records as a sort of calling card that would allow them to charge more for tickets to their live performances,” he says, referring to the 1950s and early 60s. He notes that the glory days of record companies paying for band development and large tours, “may very well be a thing of the past, with the exception of the really big names such as Beyonce and of course, ironically, Taylor Swift.”