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Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



Spotify Is Broken: The Lie Of ‘Feels Like Free’

April 12th, 2010 · 49 Comments

One of the big questions hanging over Spotify for me has been ‘do premium plays pay more than Spotify Lite plays?’ – I.E., do I get paid more if someone with a premium account plays my tunes vs. someone using the ad-funded version.

It stands to reason that the person with the premium account is paying more to listen, so surely you’d imagine that’d be reflected in the royalties?

At SXSW this year, the CEO of Spotify was giving a talk, I asked the question about royalty rates via Hugh Garry and apparently they are distributed evenly.

This is, as far as I can see, Spotify’s MASSIVE mistake. A deal-breaking, game-not-changing, screw-up of gargantuan proportions.

Here’s why.

The people best placed to promote Spotify are artists. We can link to it from our sites, we can provide links to it when we release new music, we can blog about how great it is and share music by our peers via the links.

If we push it, it becomes the place to find our music.

Spotify needs premium accounts for it to work. At the moment, their strategy for getting people signed up is to annoy the shit out of you with adverts until you capitulate. So you get irrelevant adverts that provide no value at all to the user, and therefor no value to the advertiser. Ergo, the amount paid per advert is likely to go down not up, killing the ad funded model. If I was an advertiser there’s no way I’d bother with Spotify. ‘Can you pay to produce an advert that we’re going to use to annoy people into paying not to hear it?’ no thanks.

So what would work? Spotify’s (and the other streaming services) best chance of success is if artists see it as a viable alternative to selling individual albums and tracks digitally. If it becomes that, the amount of traffic will go up and all that listening will be happening in a discovery environment, so more music will be heard by more people.

They could also make way more if the ads were something other than anti-value annoyances to be got rid of. There are loads of ways of making ads work in this setting – referrals, targeting, favouriting, user-profiles, profit-share, in-browser special offers… all kinds of stuff that would make the ad-side of the site self-supporting. If it isn’t currently viable, then the solution is to up the level of the ads even further til it is viable. The listener needs to FEEL what their listening is actually costing.

Why? Well, contrary to what Gerd Leonard has been telling us for years, ‘Feels Like Free’ is not the answer. It never has been and never will be. Free is, in fact, better than ‘feels like free’. I’d rather make my music free to download, no strings, and be rewarded in gratitude than have some weird filtered, taxation-based payment mechanism for it where people are left thinking music has neither cost nor value because there’s no tiered pricing, no opportunity to ‘pay what you like’, no thought about the value over and above the experience that access is via a portal and detached from the artist…

Listening to ads is a form of payment. We all know that. If the ads don’t cover it, then it’s a lie to keep that system going by subsidising those listens from people who are actually paying – people who are quite explicitly paying a subscription rate that puts a distinct value on their listening time. To not divide those up is to say that the value of both listens is the same. It isn’t.

  • Spotify Lite is a limited but hugely useful discovery platform. If you have the kind of life where Spotify Lite is ‘enough’, then you weren’t about to pay £10 an album for CDs anyway. You’re probably the kind of person who listens to the radio and buys the occasional compilation. Certainly not the kind of person for whom £120 a year for Spotify premium is workable.
  • Spotify Premium is an alternative to buying music. It’s also, when you look at how long people spend listening to music, a great model for paying a sensible amount per listen. If – and only if – it’s not being used to prop up a broken ad-funded ‘feels like free’ bullshit model.

If you want me to pay £10 a month for music, let me allocate where that £10 goes by choosing what I listen to. Make that £10 count, make it mean something. Cos otherwise, I’m going to stick with eMusic, where I know that my monthly sub goes to the people whose music I’m downloading. I know they get a set amount per track, that they wouldn’t get if I wasn’t paying for it. Real end to end value.

‘Til then, there’s no way on earth I’ll be paying for Spotify premium, and I won’t be encouraging anyone else to either.

If this feels like a deal-breaker to you, and you already have a premium account, you might want to consider cancelling it, and emailing Spotify to tell them why. Or better yet, blogging about why. Let’s have this discussion in public where possible.

[and before the inevitable ‘hey, I thought you loved Spotify!’ comments happen – I still think Spotify-lite is an awesome discovery tool. Spotify premium is, as yet, way too small a slice of anything to make me rethink my position on that. I don’t need to make money from Spotify-lite for its value to be realised. But the payment model that’s there doesn’t work, so the growth curve that Spotify needs to remain viable will be a seriously uphill struggle.]

Tags: New Music Strategies

Social Media Thoughts 5: Sharing the Love pt 1 – fans.

June 13th, 2008 · 2 Comments

If you listened to the podcast I’ve been talking about in the last couple of posts, you’ll know that one of the things I’ve been thinking about of late is how Social Media lets the story of what we do and why we do it be told in as many ways as there are people willing to tell it.

As an example, think of an album you like, and try and sum it up in one sentence – a slogan that would work on a bill-board. Then have a think about the diverse range of people who might listen to that music, and whether they would understand what it is that you’re describing. Are you using other music as a reference point, music they might not know? Are you referring to it technically in a way that most of the audience wouldn’t understand or even care about? Are you framing it culturally in a way that alientates parts of the potential audience? The answer is probably ‘yes’ to all of those, for some of the potential audience.

I’ve designed a few print ads in my time, most of them to run in bass magazines – easy target audience you’d think? Nope. For every bassist who gets excited over the ‘idea’ of solo bass, there are 20 who dismiss it before listening as a mindless technical wankfest. Musician-specific audiences are a mixed blessing. Sure, there’s a level of ‘wow’-factor that anything clever has for them that a lay audience may not have, but they’re also prone to listening with their eyes, so if you’re inclined to make music to be listened to rather than watched as a sport, it can be a tough crowd.

No, writing broadcast ad-copy is a nightmare, and very rarely worth the expense, if what you’re marketing isn’t a necessary utility.

Which is where the ‘viral’ aspect of social media comes into its own, and doesn’t just involve videos of cats being cute racking up 11 million views on youtube. No, I just mean us being able to talk about and share things that we think are of value to anyone else in our social networks.

There are two distinct sides to this – what we do as ‘fans’, which I’ll deal with here and what we do as fellow artists, which I’ll blog about shortly.

The fans bit is easiest – people who find what I do and like it can ‘share’ the page on facebook, ‘stumble’ it, tweet about it, or just send an ole fashioned email to a friend with a recommendation to check out a particular tune or artist. We can even buy music for them on iTunes, and can of course describe it in any way that works for us, using the promo blurb that the artist has on their site if we want, or just making it up. So someone finding me could send their friend some BS about ‘the UK’s leading solo bass guitarist’ or say something random like ‘here’s a song that REALLY reminds me of custard… can’t work out why’… either way, it’s a new story, it’s a story that has context, and history and shared language in a way that a broadcast soundbite written by a marketing person will never have.

The artist’s role in this is to resource those digging for info. Often I want to share music with a fair amount of context, especially if it’s great music made in a way that is relevant to a particular musician, so if I go to the artist’s site and find a description of how they made a particular sound or recorded a particular track, so much the better. If while I’m there, I read a bit more about why they make the music they make, and what’s going on with them, it provides even greater context for me, and also for anyone I point to the site.

The key here is understanding how and why we ‘get into’ a particular band. It’s VERY rarely through one listen to a song. Two things in particular make a big difference to the likelihood of us loving a band – context and repeat exposure.

In the bad old days, pre-internets, repeat exposure came either through radio or after we’d bought the record. So we had time to grow to love things, and often bought them based on reviewers or friends who acted as cultural gate-keepers. The need to buy on trust has gone, so the role of musical town-criers is less vital, and we can all play a part in sharing what we dig.

Three things are therefor vital for musicians to do

1. articulate the need for some assistance – in the bad old days of Web 1.0, the vast majority of ‘web-savvy’ indie musicians played the ‘faux-major’ website game. Get a super flashy (often Flash-y) website design, and make it look like you are hidden behind a team of managers, designers, pluggers, PRs and a fancy schmancy rich label. Fake it to make it. It soon became very clear that audiences value interaction with artists far more than they are ‘wowed’ by faux-corporatism. So in the new web ecomony, we need to make ourselves available to answer our audience’s questions about what we do, invite their interaction with our process, and ask for their help! I UTTERLY rely on my audience telling their friends, family and social peers about what I do when they find something in it that works for them – and, leading onto number 2,
2.I try and make it as easy as possible for them (you?) to share things – at the bottom of this post, and any other post or page on my site, you’ll see a lil’ green logo that says ‘share this’ next to it – if you click on there, it’s easy to share that page or post on any social network you happen to be a part of – Myspace, facebook, stumbleupon, digg, del.icio.us, and a bunch of others I’ve never even heard of! that’s one of the main ways that people who have never heard me get to hear what I do – you sharing it.
3. The 3rd thing we musicians need to do is Show Gratitude – I’m well aware that you don’t NEED to tell anyone about my music. You don’t NEED to listen to me, or read this blog, or anything else – it’s a tragic pit that so many musicians fall into when they forget what David Jennings refers to in Net Blogs And Rock & Roll as ‘Jennings Law’ – “people make most of their discoveries elsewhere.” – no-one is hanging around twiddling their thumbs feeling like their monthly broadband fee is wasted cos I haven’t released enough music or written enough blog posts this week. In an attention economy, the onus is on me to be interesting enough for people to come and see what I do, and to frame the music is a context that hopefully inspires people to want to share that with their friends and peers, and to get the pay-off that they see it helping me…

So, in closing, it helps. If you’ve been sharing what I do with your friends, let me know in the comments below, and I’ll show some gratitude 🙂

Tags: Geek · Musing on Music · New Music Strategies · tips for musicians