Swift Shakes off Spotify
by The Milton Measure on Friday, December 5th, 2014
On October 27th, Taylor Swift released her latest album 1989 and sold over 1.3 million copies in the first week, a record unheard of since Eminem’s album The Eminem Show in 2002. A few days after its release, Big Machine Label Group decided to pull the star’s catalog from Spotify to rebel from Spotify’s allegedly insufficient payment to Taylor Swift for her music. Scott Borchetta, the CEO of Big Machine, told Time Magazine that “Swift has been paid less than $500,000 from Spotify in the past year for streams of her music within the United States.” Taylor Swift is one of the few artists that can afford to pull back from music streamers like Spotify, but she certainly doesn’t stand alone in struggling against underpayment. So, does streaming music really hurt artists; if so, by how much?
According to Spotify CEO, Daniel Ek, “payouts for a top artist like Taylor Swift (before she pulled her catalog) are on track to exceed $6 million a year.” Then, how is it possible that Swift was paid less than half a million in the past year? It seems like the spokesmen of both Spotify and Big Machine are disregarding many factors as to what makes or breaks Taylor’s income…and she isn’t the only artist fighting against streaming music. Country star Jason Aldean and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke have also pulled their songs off Spotify to protest the size of their payouts. Artists are obviously already underpaid due to the web’s easy access to YouTube and piracy sites like The Pirate Bay, so do streaming sites like Spotify really add to the damage? According to Spotify’s Ek, Taylor Swift’s 1989 was #1 on The Pirate Bay during the week of the album’s release. So, although Taylor’s removing her songs from Spotify raised awareness of how harmful piracy is to artists, it certainly hasn’t led to much action.
In response to Taylor’s actions, Spotify released two playlists asking for her return: “Come Back, Taylor!” and “What to Play While Taylor’s Away.” Ek has gone out of his way to make it clear that Spotify intends for listeners to access music more easily and for artists to be properly reimbursed for their work. In a recent blog post, the Spotify team wrote, “We believe fans should be able to listen to music wherever and whenever they want and that artists have an absolute right to be paid for their work and protected from piracy.” While paying artists less than half a cent for each song might not be considered by some to be fair payment, at least it’s better than their being paid nothing from The Pirate Bay. It seems like Taylor has lost a lot of money trying to fight for a cause that won’t be reaching a real solution anytime soon.
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