To Stream or Not to Stream: Why Artists Are Saying No to Spotify
Though the untapped potential of the Internet is something that has seismically shifted the landscape of just about every industry there is, none have been as catastrophically hit as the music industry. With album sales continuing to plummet further into the abyss in the wake of online streaming -namely Spotify– management and labels have been forced to reevaluate the tenets and policies in music release that have been the standard for half a century. So in this period of mass instability and uncertainty, it should come as no surprise that those facing the biggest challenges and the ones with the most to lose are the individual artists.
So artists have been countering the only way they can: boycotting streaming. Bjork, who just released her ninth album Vulnicura, has quietly refused to make the album available to Spotify. In an interview with Fast Company, the Icelandic chanteuse stated point blank that streaming “just does not feel right.” While many would be quick to say that streaming opens Bjork up to a much wider international audience than she ever could have imagined, she wouldn’t quite agree. She elaborates that “to work on something for two or three years and then just, oh, here it is for free. It’s not about the money; it’s about respect, you know? Respect for the craft and the amount of work you put into it.”
Bjork is but the latest in an ever growing number of artists who are quick to call out the company’s policies that make it near impossible for artists to be properly compensated for the time, energy, and dedication that go into making an album. Taylor Swift recently made headlines by removing her entire catalogue from Spotify, despite their shockingly personal smear campaign to coerce her to return. Thom Yorke of Radiohead preceded Swift’s move out, and though David Byrne’s music is still available on the service, he has persistently called for a revision of their policies, even saying that “the internet will suck all creative content out of the world” in an interview with the Guardian.
Spotify has vehemently defended their guidelines regarding artist compensation, arguing that it’s more profitable compared to the alternatives of record company management or pirating. This opinion makes sense for a company whose profits in streaming have singlehandedly surpassed all profits made from sales of physical copies of music according to a recent study in Time. And while the novelty of owning a tangible piece of the music you’re listening to may never fade, it has irreversibly become a dying format.
Where does this leave the artists? Keeping in mind that Spotify can only return royalty payments from the money they earn from paying providers, musicians have increasingly shrinking outlets of revenue. Emerging artists have virtually no chance at making any kind of money through a pay-per-stream service like Spotify, and even established artists are seeing stymied returns when compared to physical album sales. In a disheartening moral to the story, the only course of action open to musicians seems to be the Bjork/Taylor Swift route of refusing to stream at all. In a world where music has become a free commodity, is revocation of the music itself the only way to combat it?
Photo of Bjork by Jean Baptiste Mondino
Photo of Taylor Swift courtesy of Big Machine Records