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Why I’ve Taken My Music Off Spotify…

December 16th, 2011 | 25 Comments | Categories: Musing on Music · New Music Strategies |

A few weeks back, Andrew Dubber and I recorded a podcast, in which we talked about Spotify. A lot. I outlined in that some of the reasons why I’m taking my music off the service, and now that I’ve finally got round to it, I’ll write about them too.

It’s become de rigueur for labels and artists to take their music off the service, citing the low payout per stream as their primary reason. That’s not my reason.

Neither is it to do with their often eff-up metadata or the lack of control over artist bios and weblinks (though all three of those are massive issues they need to address).

No, my argument is simply a fair trade one, not a ‘this is best for my career’ one. In fact, I think I’ll probably, to some degree, lessen the chances of some listeners finding me. I’ve made it harder for those who share Spotify links to their favourite music to share my music (though not physically much harder, given that ultimately Bandcamp links are way more useful, in that they’re cross-platform, don’t require an app, never play you ads and will even create embeddable players when you drop them into Facebook, with integral ‘download/buy’ links.)

No, I have two main complaints:

  • One, the service is at least part owned by the Major labels, who have a controlling say in how it all works, how the payments work, and who gets what.
  • Two, As far as I can see, Spotify have just attempted to stay inside the law with regards to artist/writer payments, involving protracted negotiations with the rights orgs. At no point have they, as far as I can tell, made any offer to musicians over and above the absolute minimum. The reason it’s ‘as far as I can see’ is that Spotify won’t tell anyone what they pay. Their payments are obscured, and they defer to the labels saying that artists only get paid by the labels and collection agencies anyway. It’s bollocks. If they are paying x-amount per stream to the PRS, we should be told that. If there’s any more that goes straight to the distributors/labels, we should be told that too. To claim it’s ‘commercially sensitive’ just means ‘we’ve done a deal with the Majors that makes indie artists look like goons, and we don’t want them to know’.

This may well be because, as this article claims, the majors have it rigged anyway. It’s certainly true that anyone paying Spotify to listen to my music is also funding the Major record labels. Labels that I hope will cease to exist before too long.

So, I’ve pulled my music off there. Being there was doing me no harm, I’m not expecting to see an upsurge in sales, though thanks to the total absence of tracking data, I’ve never been able to see whether anyone bought my music after hearing it on Spotify.

IF you have been listening to my music on Spotify up until now, please feel free to go and download it from http://music.stevelawson.net- there’s loads more there than was ever on Spotify, with the correct titles and everything – it’s got artwork, sleevenotes, and your Spotify app will play it anyway once you’ve downloaded it. It just won’t be giving any money to the bastards who are trying to force insane legislation through the UK and US courts to ruin the internet.

(if at the time of reading you check Spotify and my music is still there, it just means they haven’t pulled it from their system yet. No need to tell me in the comments :)

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25 Comments so far ↓

  • Robert

    This just sounds shortsighted and bitter.

    • Steve

      I’m not sure I follow.

      Shortsighted? How? Unless you’re suggesting that I’m doing massive damage to my career for the sake of a symbolic gesture… In terms of revenue, I’m losing $6 a year, based on what I’ve made so far. I’m also OK with having less people listen to me. I’m not happy to support a system I don’t agree with. It’s not about whether it’s good or bad for my career… Same reason I wouldn’t want McDonalds using my music in their adverts, money or not.

      Bitter? I have absolutely no idea what that could mean. What do I have to be bitter about? I think that being a musician now is better than at any time in history. Making music, discovering music, sharing music, meeting audiences, playing shows… it’s never been this good. I have absolutely nothing to be bitter about. At all.

  • Adrian

    Not to me, Robert. If Steve had posted this two years ago, I would have been surprised. Spotify seemed like a great idea… free music listening for users and widespread exposure (if not exactly well-paid, as we already knew) for musicians. A level playing field where indie musicians had the same status within Spotify as the superstars.

    But now the free version is practically unusable for relaxed leisure listening (I’ve just spent an hour listening to stuff, and I think I’ve only had two consecutive tracks without an overloud advert). They partially backtracked over the tie-in with Facebook, but the PR damage is already done.

    And all that might not matter if we knew that all artists were getting their cut. But they’re not. You can listen to indie artists all you like (even pay for the Premium service) and they’ll still earn a pittance, while the major labels rake it in via their equity deal. The whole thing has a nasty taste.

  • Corey Mwamba

    For me, Spotify was only ever good for checking out older music and artists you knew about but hadn’t checked out before. But it was rubbish for finding new music. I never really thought about the funding/earning streams at all – I was always sure it was a bit like normal radio. Does anyone really EARN from radio?

    How does someone actually get their music ON Spotify? I mean, the only thing I think which is similar that I know about is Grooveshark – and with that you just upload it. No money changes hands.

    For the amount of time and money you’d waste you may as well do Soundcloud and Bandcamp, or get some web space: then do some work and connect with listeners using all of the other methods that exist on the Internet.

    Luckily Steve, you do that already. That’s why you don’t understand Robert. Because he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

  • Robert

    Corey, I think you’ll find you are mistaken but that’s fine. To pay an aggregator £25 to put your track on over 160 stores and services worldwide including Spotify takes at most half an hour for you to do, then a few days for them to finalise. Little or no effort on my side required (apart from the music obviously). The powers that be will always be present but I have no real issues with that as they do their thing and I do mine, we can co-exist. Spotify for me me was never about the money or ethics behind it, I just see it as another promotional tool. If people can share your music through Spotify via Facebook with people that may genuinely gain something from listening to my music then I’m happy with that. As Steve rightly mentioned in a Tweet, not one individual ‘deserves’ to make a living from music, but if you have enhanced your chances of possibly making someone’s day just that little bit better then I’ve done what I set out to acheive. I am entitled to my opinion just as you are.

    • Corey Mwamba

      Of course you’re entitled to your opinion about Spotify – but saying that Steve’s post has a bitter or short-sighted tone really is several miles off; and you hadn’t actually offered an opinion about the subject at hand.

      If you’d actually talked about the subject of the post instead of mentioning your opinion of Steve’s tone then perhaps your first comment would have made more sense. What you wrote before was just throwaway commenting; no detail to the opinion.

    • Steve

      I don’t think Corey’s issue was with your opinion, but with an unqualified accusation that bore no visible relation to either this post or the the wider context of my writing and actions around the new music economy… But that’s by the by.

      As I said in the post, my problem is not with what I do or don’t get out of spotify. I find it odd that people expect a streaming service to pay them a wage, when ‘exposure’ under the old system is something that labels consistently paid for, way beyond any reasonable expectation of a return on investment. Advertising, radio pluggers, cover mount CDs… all of them were very expensive lottery tickets, that only really made sense if somehow that money was coming back to the label but still billable to the artist…

      No, ‘I don’t make enough money from this’, as stated in the article, is not really a factor in it.

      Using a service that seems to me to be against the principles of fair and equitable trade just because it’s useful to me jars against my world view. I haven’t said in the article, or the tweets relating to it, that I expect anyone else to do the same, or that we should organise a boycott or any of that stuff. It’s my reason. It seems to be one that resonates with a lot of people.

      I’m a big fan of sharing, of community, co-operatives, the Creative Commons, collaboration… I don’t think file sharing is ‘theft’ in any meaningful way… But, I do think that we as humans are better off if we are willing, within a cash economy, to express our gratitude for things by paying for them. I don’t think we should be obliged to – that removes much of the personal benefit that the giver derives from it, but I don’t think there’s any nobility in the ‘music should be free’ argument either. I don’t think that’s a call that any individual is in the position to make. “I don’t think I should have to pay for music” is a wholly different question. To frame it as all music should be free is an attempt to divest ones self of the responsibility for one’s unique decisions and their consequences.

      But here’s the crazy thing – I’m not alone in thinking that. A lot of people seem willing to pay musicians. Why do they pay? A whole range of reasons. Some feel they are ‘paying for music’, some feel that are patrons of the arts, some see it as a tip-jar, some are using a transaction around the recordings as an easy way to express financially their gratitude or sense of value for something else less tangible (I wonder how many people have bought my music because they value my blog and/or tweets? Would be fascinating to know…)

      But in all of that, I try and be involved in things that I think are good for ‘music’ not just ‘my music’. And right now, I don’t think Spotify’s opacity or relationship with an entirely broken and discredited industrial model of media production and the indentured servitude of artists is one that I want to support by making my music available there. It’s not about ‘the statement’ or ‘the impact’. It’s about me and what I feel right about supporting. That’s not it.

      (yes, I know you didn’t raise most of those points… I just used your comments as a launch pad. No further inference is implied than what you actually wrote ;) )

      • Nicola

        Steve you asked: “I wonder how many people have bought my music because they value my blog and/or tweets? Would be fascinating to know…”.
        I can’t remember if I heard your music first or met you first – suspect it was pretty much at the same time! But it was certainly pre-blogs and pretwitter… though not pre-t’interweb! At first I bought your stuff for a mixture of reasons including partly curiosity and wanting to hear more, also it was exciting to buy music created by someone I knew… Buying and listening to your stuff has extended my musical tastes (which are generally fairly conventional!)… and I continue to buy stuff both cos I value listening to it as well as to support the other stuff you do….

      • greengeekgirl

        As a person who does buy music but doesn’t make music, I have to say that it’s for a very simple reason that some of us purchase music: we want you to keep making music. If all of your time was taken up by a “real” job, you wouldn’t be able to make as much music. It’s a very simple equation: we pay you money, you can make more music for us to listen to.

        • Nicola

          Can I “like” Greengeekgirl’s comment please (so much more succinct than mine!)

  • Charlie Evans

    I have to say Robert sounds like he’s trying to get a bit of trolling going on, which is never nice. If you have a difference of opinion then fair enough but to just attack without justification seems to me a but pointless. Although I will soften my stance as he did then qualify his stance later on.

    Spotify had a good idea and then did the deal with the devil. The majors are trying desperately to keep their unfair advantage going for as long as they can and it’s becoming less and less sustainable for them. Hopefully they’ll have had their day and the cycle can start again with the small independent labels becoming king.

    If you spend time developing your audience, rather than the shove it out there and hope for the best model, then they’ll check out your music wherever you decide to host it. Bandcamp has better metrics and a much more honest way of taking their cut, by my reckoning. Still it’s horses for courses. Do what works for you.

    The fun thing is that we’re all pioneers in this new paradigm. Only time will tell what way works better. I think there won’t be one way, but hundreds and there’ll be one to fit every musician. So let’s get exploring!

  • steve th

    sad as i like spotify (and as a player its shit with tracks on my comp), as principled decision i have to aplaud – not enough decisions made on principle . far as career development / financial sense the damage may be minimal but for artists with lower web profile and less specialist target auiduence i think harm would be more noticable. a more pragmatic artist might be advised to leave enough music on spotify to act as an introduction

  • Rob

    I don’t use Spotify as a listener and I’m not a working artist so I have no beef with them from that angle. I can see your point Steve, but I object from yet another POV.

    I first heard about Spotify from friends, tried it, didn’t like it much. Then early this year the PR hype went into overdrive. For almost a year the media uncritically reported Spotty like the second coming and churned its dubious press releases as fact.

    Then came F8, then the App platform… this is clearly a start-up taking the PR treadmill approach to its IPO (much like Facebook). But unlike their fairy Godmother, Google, neither have a Golden Goose (if I may confuse my Pantos).

    This is my objection. It’s the mutual misinformation pact between the media (including many bloggers) and Spotify itself. I have written about the astonishing App Event where Ek only responded to the safe questions from his #askspotify Twitter feed. All the other questions are there, on the record. Why don’t we see them in the press? (I won’t list them here.)

    Pandora has 4x the audience that Spotty has but last week we saw repeated drops in Pandora stock after Spotty press releases. WTF? The presence of the big labels inside Spotify is a factor here. As I understand it they don’t have financial control but their licenses are conditional on their minority holding. Without their licenses Spotty is dead so they have control without buying it. And they have a disproportionate influence on the media.

    Michael Robertson (Mp3.com) is dead right. Spotify is all about Major label income. Rob Wells (UMG) – who basically runs the Majors’ digital strategy now – has said he expects a streaming service to hit 2 billion paying subscribers. That’s how much they want Spotty to succeed (whether or not it’s feasible). Anyway, I won’t hog your comments… just to say I think the whole thing is deeply unhealthy.

  • Robert

    I agree Steve th. My only real issue with this whole discussion was that Steve is an educated and intellegent man, so much so that he should realise that by being downtrodden on services virally, people take notice and may jump on the bandwaggon without thouroughly tresearching and making their own mind up. Online blogs and forums to me have became the new powerhouse for the spreading and sharing ideas but most imporantly can shape and influence, and that’s where negativity can be dangerous. We should always question everything but be wary of dismissing stuff publicly too early in the game. As for the Majors, people will always have their views but I feel theygibe a service to those who generally haven’t immersed themselves in music the way we have because they like it but simply haven’t taken the extra hours to explore for themselves. It’s an entry level service that works for the majority so I tend to ignore that side of things but appreciate that it is still important for some people.

    • Steve

      Hang on, so your reason for saying I sound shortsighted and bitter is that someone else might read what I’ve written detailing my reasons for leaving Spotify, and copy it without understanding it?

      Seriously? I’m too clever so should censor the public expression of my thoughts on my own blog in case really stupid people copy me?

      Wow.

      And by wow I mean ‘that’s clearly utter bollocks, but is so bizarre I can’t even be bothered to critique it’.

      Ditto your thoughts on major labels. I’ve written about their follies in great detail in the past, so won’t go over old ground here, suffice to say I disagree vehemently and think that as they stand, particularly given their ever-increasing lobbying power, they are a deeply pernicious and malignant presence within the cultural landscape.

      It’s also really interesting to contrast Rob’s observation (which I share) about the media hagiography of Spotify (I wrote v. favourably about it myself when it first arrived, with a few qualifications…) with your suggestion that any negative opinion is somehow dangerous. It just doesn’t hold water. Sorry.

  • Robert

    All I’m saying is that if we are to flourish in the independant sphere positivity is the way forward rather than being resentful of what others have. The question should ask is ‘what can we do’ not ‘what we can’t’. I think you underestimate your influence.

    • Steve

      I can’t think of anything more positive that making a principled stand in favour of fair trade in the face of something that strikes me as being anything but. There’s no resentment in there at all. I don’t resent anyone anything.

      And if you really think that my writing is about defining what we can’t do, you’re not reading it properly.

    • Rob

      Robert, I recommend you take a look at Ian Rogers interview with Richard Jones (Pixies) on This Week In Music. It’s a short 20 minute video.

      He explains why it is important for him to swim against the tide and promote D2F over the mainstream model (ticketing, 360 deals, merch, etc.) where he can. Would you say he’s shortsighted or bitter?

  • Gareth J M Saunders

    YOU ARE REMOVING *ALL* THE MUSIC OFF SPOTIFY?! WHAT?! ARE YOU MAD?! CAN YOU DO THAT? BUT I’VE NOT COPIED IT ALL YET. OH! RIGHT! JUST *YOUR* MUSIC. OFF *YOUR* COPY OF SPOTIFY, RIGHT? NOT MINE, YEAH?

    Sorry, I couldn’t resist. Good on you.

    Robert wrote, “Spotify for me me was never about the money or ethics behind it, I just see it as another promotional tool.”

    It reads to me that for Steve this decision has never been about the money and everything to do with the ethics behind it. And that is to be applauded, and I wouldn’t expect anything less from Steve.

    I need to do that more often with services that I use.

    Steve, I’m happy to send you US $6.00 per year if you like. On the condition that you set up a dedicated bank account for it at the RBS that you call “I LOVE SPOTIFY”. ;)

    (Ironically, I’ve not listened to Spotify for months for anything other than checking out one or two tunes. I’ve been listening to it for about 30 minutes now while composing my thoughts to post here… mostly to see whether what really obscure metal bands it has listed.)

  • Thatch

    Bandcamp works everywhere – Spotify doesn’t work in Australia – says it all.

  • Albert Freeman

    This is really interesting, Steve. I’m currently involved in the process if getting the new Wilful Missing album digitally distributed, and I’ve thus far considered Spotify a must. But now, I’m thinking again. ‘Thinking’ being the key word. I’m not just going to copy you by rote. ;-)

    Ethics are key to all decisions we make about where/how our music is used – similarly to you, we wouldn’t allow our music to be used in an advert promoting a brand we don’t approve of.

    I’d like to ask you something further. Have you given thought to other digital platforms for promoting your music too? iTunes and it’s Ping network favours the major labels (or it did the last time I checked it out), Facebook is being treated with far more skepticism by a lot of people as it becomes more corporate and (as a merely historical example), Myspace is owned by Rupert Murdoch.

    So, as ever with such decision, it’s tough to know where to draw the line.

    • Steve

      Good questions, Albert – I certainly bailed on MySpace a LOT later than I should have. I rationalised it at the time as my presence on Myspace was so insignificant it did me more good to be there than it did Murdoch harm for me not to… but the identical argument could be made for Spotify. So I think I was probably wrong about that one.

      iTunes have done some bad, but I don’t think have actually set out to funnel indie-money back into the coffers of the major labels, which seems to have unwittingly become one of the primary purposes of Spotify’s economics… Pay the minimum legally required to artists, funnel the rest back to the share-holders and meet the ever-more insane demands of the majors.

      Facebook is more troublesome, but thinking too hard about that also drags me into my issues with Google’s entire business model being built on selling advertising, the vast majority of it being financial advertising… they sell debt so we can have free email. That’s a real worry…

      So yes, singling out Spotify doesn’t neccesarily make full sense, and is one of the (many) reasons why I haven’t suggested that anyone else should feel in anyway compelled to copy me. I made a decision about Spotify while thinking about Spotify, probably at least partly driven by my disappointment that their initial promise remains entirely unfulfilled…

  • Keith

    A great piece!

    Pleased to see you have pulled your stuff off and made it available on bandcamp, where it is transparent on who pays what, people can listen to as a virtual library, can share,and if they wish, can hand over some dosh knowing it is going direct to the guys who made the music (less a small cut to bandcamp).

    http://keithpp.wordpress.com/2012/02/08/bandcamp/

  • Keith

    I love it. A few people tweet,and the masses listen on bandcamp!

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