The Wishy-Washy Saga of my Moral Misgivings with Spotify

It’s probably bad blogging to admit this, but it would be dishonest of me if I didn’t say that, until recently, I was one of those self-righteous people who refused to use Spotify because it hurt musicians. And before that, I was a huge supporter of it, telling everyone I knew to jump on this boat because it was a legal – and awesome – alternative to piracy. And before that, I didn’t really care about it one way or the other.

All that to say this: if you feel differently than I currently do, please comment. Enlighten me. I’ll probably change my mind. Like five more times.

If you’re not one of the who-knows-how-many Spotify users in the world, it’s a free, ad-supported music streaming service. There is a premium service if you don’t want to listen to ads or have a number of other perks that I’m too cheap to care about.

Spotify is becoming more and more popular, but it has its opponents. Lots of people say it makes it harder for bands to make money, pointing out that Lady Gaga only made roughly $160 off of several million plays on a song. For a little while, at least, I was one of those people. I am strongly against piracy, so when I heard this service was doing to artists almost exactly what piracy had been doing for years, I decided never to use Spotify again. I was incredibly self-righteous about it, too. I threw out the Lady Gaga statistic, following it up with, “So you can only imagine what it’s doing to x, y, and z indie bands.” I never came out and said it, but I made sure to insinuate that if you were using Spotify, you were creating little starving artists all over the world. I was probably obnoxious.

But here’s the thing. Spotify isn’t piracy. With Spotify, you can opt out of having your music carried on the service, and it will not be carried. Granted, artists are barely getting paid, but the fact of the matter is this isn’t the first service to make it hard for artists to make money. What about iTunes? All of a sudden, people who only like one song on your album can spend a buck instead of ten. It’s getting harder and harder to be a full-time rock star.

We live in a culture that loves entertainment but doesn’t value it. We want to watch as many movies and TV shows as we can, listen to as many songs as we can, and read as many books as we can, all while spending as few dollars as we can. That’s just the way it is. Artists have always had to adapt. Maybe that means getting a day job. Maybe that means finding creative ways to market your music. Maybe that means realizing music is just going to have to be a hobby.

The people who really get hurt by Spotify are the mid-level guys. Big acts are already pulling in lots of money from tours and huge album sales, so they have plenty of profit margin to cut into. Small indie acts get exposure, which is the biggest thing they need, anyway. But Spotify – and the digital age of music in general – means that mid-level guys need to up their game or accept that music isn’t going to be a full-time job for long.

I realize I probably sound majorly heartless right now, but that’s where I’m at on this mostly pointless issue. Now I’m going to listen to one of my Spotify playlists. I might even share it on Twitter.

What are your thoughts on Spotify? Do you even care?

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3 thoughts on “The Wishy-Washy Saga of my Moral Misgivings with Spotify

  1. M. C. Frontalot has a song about this called “Captains of Industry”:

    Frontalot is in the t shirt business / I thought that we were rappers, what is this?

    It’s on Spotify.

  2. My thoughts off the top of my head: There will always be lots of people who pirate music. Nothing is ever going to change that. If a service like Spotify (or Pandora, or last.fm, or whatever other ad-supported players people want to talk about) can make artists even just a few dollars here and there, that’s a few dollars they wouldn’t have made otherwise, and in theory will cut back on the amount of people pirating music. Of course, you could argue that having something like Spotify makes it more likely that a person who might have spent $10 on an album will now spend $0 to listen online, and then the artist is making a fraction of the profit they would have made. But then I also think that without something like Spotify, a person who’s on the fence about spending $10 for music is probably more likely to pirate than shell out the cash.

    Those are my rambling thoughts. Not necessarily the most cohesive opinion.

  3. To be honest, I have a hard time blaming Spotify. Besides the fact that they’ve ended the past 3 years with deficits on their annual revenue, they’re trying to run a business by dealing with the ridiculous licensing fees. I’m not too sure if the record labels count these fees as licensing royalties (50% goes to artist) or distribution royalties (12% goes to artist), but I do that they’re making bank on distribution royalties since there’s almost no overhead.

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