It looks as if Taylor Swift is never, ever, ever getting back with Spotify. The pop star with a net worth of about $200 million decided earlier this month to pull her entire music catalog from the music-streaming service. Although Spotify urged Swift to reconsider her decision, noting that almost 16 million users played her songs in the past month, Taylor stood her ground. Her opinion on the matter can be found in a Wall Street Journal op-ed:
“Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things should be valuable. Valuable things should be paid for. It’s my opinion that music should not be free.”
She might be missing out on the Spotify royalties—they pay nearly 70% of revenue back to the music community, according to Forbes—but Taylor’s newest album 1989 hasn’t suffered in sales. The singer has topped the Billboard 200 album charts for the third week in a row, thanks to cumulative sales of nearly 2 million, based on Billboard’s data.
So how much was Taylor really making off Spotify? CNNMoney reports that there is some debate on the subject. Scott Borchetta, CEO of Swift’s record label Big Machine Records, states that the actual amount his label has received in return for domestic streams of Swift’s music—$496,044—is drastically smaller than the amount Spotify has suggested the artist receives, according to TIME. Borchetta also noted that the label made more from streaming her videos on Vevo than from putting her music on Spotify. But Spotify’s CEO, Daniel Ek, isn’t giving up just yet. In a lengthy blog post last week, he clarified, “At our current size, payouts for a top artist like Taylor Swift (before she pulled her catalog) are on track to exceed $6 million a year.” The CEO makes the argument that “Spotify is not the enemy; piracy is the enemy.” Which is a valid point, considering Swift doesn’t make a dime if listeners decide to download the music illegally. By creating a platform for fans to stream music for a reasonable fee (Spotify Premium is only 5 bucks a month for college students!), supported by advertising, Spotify has changed the way many of us get our music.
The decision by Swift’s Big Machine Records to yank the pop star’s music from Spotify has now led Sony Music Entertainment to reconsider whether it will continue to license songs for free, ad-supported music services, according to Kevin Kelleher, EVP and CFO of Sony Music. If Sony goes ahead and mimics Taylor Swift, artists like One Direction, Calvin Harris, and Carrie Underwood would be dropping from Spotify’s catalog. It just goes to show how much influence the 24-year-old singer has on the industry.
It should be noted that this isn’t an unprecedented move. For a long time, The Beatles’ collection was absent from the iTunes Stores. Finally in 2010, the band ended their “digital boycott” in a lucrative deal between their record label and Apple, Inc., which entailed that all royalties from digital download sales be paid directly to the band’s company. Another case from 2000, back when people got their music from Napster, heavy metal band Metallica sued the peer-to-peer file sharing service for copyright infringement and racketeering. Drummer Lars Ulrich testified that Napster was enabling users to exchange copyrighted MP3 files—more specifically, copyrighted Metallica songs—and demanded $100,000 per song that was illegally downloaded. This eventually ended in Napster being forced to file for bankruptcy. Interestingly, a quote from Ulrich resembles what Taylor Swift seemed to try to get across in her WSJ op-ed. In an interview with Rolling Stone, he said:
“We take our craft—whether it be the music, the lyrics, or the photos and artwork—very seriously, as do most artists. It is therefore sickening to know that our art is being traded like a commodity rather than the art that it is.”
That being said, Napster was facilitating the act of piracy by allowing users to share MP3 files for no charge—unlike Spotify, which is completely legal. Perhaps Taylor Swift fails to see the difference. Rolling Stone calls the move a “corporate power play,” but whatever way you want to look at it, there are millions of Spotify users around the globe who are going through TSwift withdrawal, and that’s something we just can’t shake off.