My evolution as a music lover over the years has basically gone something like this:
1. Buy everything I like on CD
2. Listen to everything on Spotify instead
Since discovering Spotify two years ago, shortly after it came out in the UK, I have stopped buying CDs. I don’t need them anymore. I’ve also run out of space for them in my house, but that’s just an aside…
These days, the majority of my music-listening takes place on a computer, so Spotify is fine for that need. 90% of the music I like is on there. I’m a proud premium user: I hate the ads and I am an iPhone user, plus I used to spend £10+ per month buying CDs (that’s about one CD per month), so I’d actually argue that the Premium is a bargain in comparison.
Even so, there’s just two albums I really, really want to buy on CD at the moment:
1. Adele’s 21
2. Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs
Because they’re not on Spotify.
As I said, “90% of the music I like is on there.” Whatever the reason for that other 10% not being on there, I’d argue that it’s potentially a good move on their part.
The musician’s mission is the musician’s dilemma
As a musician myself (from way back when), I can personally vouch for the two words that describe the goal of the little-known, unsigned musician: maximum exposure.
If/when we can afford the time and money, we market ourselves in a particular way because it’s the norm in the industry: we have to record demos or a proper album; we have to get a website made; we have to get on MySpace (once upon a time), Facebook, Spotify and various other social/music sites. The more you do, the better chance you stand. The goal is to maximise exposure, and by doing some or all of the above, you are attempting just that. I know because I did it. I even got myself onto Spotify, even though I’d stopped playing live by that point (note: for the curious among you who want to have a listen via that link, it’s the two EPs – the albums are by a different Steve Morgan).
Of course, fully-fledged signed musicians can be more selective, which their label/agents/managers/etc. will be responsible for, and yet Universal, Sony, EMI, Warner and more are all working with Spotify, according to Spotify’s Labels page.
Is this a bad thing? Yes and no, depending on how you look at it. No because it’s maximising exposure. Yes because it’s not profitable.
Spotify is not profitable to musicians. David McCandless’ infographic highlights the differences between Spotify’s royalties (£0.0012 per stream) and other ways a musician can earn money by selling their music. When Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” reached 1 million streams, the biggest news about it was the fact that she only earned £108 in royalties from it.
Pirates gonna pirate, but…
Arguably, tenths of pennies is better than nothing at all, say if someone were to download music illegally. Of course, if people are that way inclined, it’s likely that they’ll always download the stuff for free, regardless of whether it’s on Spotify or only available on CD.
However, what about those who don’t download illegally? Whether it’s a case of ethics, wanting to own ‘the real thing’ or they’re simply scared of ever getting caught, those who choose the non-piracy route (myself included) will want to hear the music by legitimate means. A CD might cost about £10, but Spotify membership is £10 monthly and I can listen to numerous albums without any ads interrupting. I know I’m basing a lot of this on my own experiences, but I’m sure I’m not the only one, and that a lot of Spotify users are in the same (or similar) boat at the moment.
So why wouldn’t a musician be on Spotify? It could be that their label hasn’t yet negotiated terms with Spotify, or maybe they simply don’t want to be on there. Adele’s latest album and Arcade Fire aren’t on there, so what’s the alternative? To buy the CDs or MP3s. If they were on there, I’d probably listen to them on there, without the need to buy the CDs.
Time for some quick maths: if I were to listen to the Arcade Fire’s album in full five times…
– It contains 16 tracks. 16 x 5 = 80. 80 x £0.0012 = £0.096, or £0.10 rounded up. 10p. Wow.
– Meanwhile, it’s £8.99 on Play.com.
Now there is the assumption that someone could listen on Spotify and then buy on CD as well, but that will still depend on a person’s needs. Someone might buy the CD so that they can listen to it on a proper stereo, in the car or so that they have the physical copy, but if someone can listen to an album for cheaper or for ‘free’ (depending on their type of Spotify membership), they probably will. Fair enough if you do, but why buy the CD if you don’t need to?
Profit comes from demand, demand comes from desire
I’m not saying that musicians have to become capitalists, plus there are other ways musicians can support themselves (e.g. touring and merchandise), but let’s be fair… The way the music industry is heading at the moment is ridiculous, with musicians expecting to pay money to record and release music that people will then listen to free or for a pittance – Spotify’s low royalty fees are reflective of that. That said, it can be argued that that’s a result of there being too much ‘supply’ and not enough demand: i.e. lots of people playing and recording music, with listeners only being able to invest so much of their time and money into a finite amount of music. Even if they are a fan of dozens or hundreds of different artists.
So what’s a musician to do? In the case of Adele and Arcade Fire, people who’d usually do all their listening via Spotify will be more inclined to buy a CD. For once, not achieving maximum exposure via every possible outlet might actually be beneficial to them, in that it forces people down a particular route, which might require spending more money than listening via a cheap or free alternative.
Of course, Adele and Arcade Fire have done really well in making themselves in demand. The former has appeared on everything recently, from about every radio station ever to the first episode of the most recent series of Doctor Who. The latter won a Grammy.
But then that’s easy for big artists like them, who are supported by big record labels. What about the small fry – the little guys – the unsigned? Well if you make all of your music available via Spotify and similar services, then less people will want to buy your CD. So give them a reason to want to buy: maybe only make your music only available via CD and at gigs. Create excitement. Create demand. After all, if you offer everything, people will gladly take everything.
Easier said than done maybe, but at the end of the day, if people want something that they can’t have for free, they’ll pay.
[Guitar case & money image credit: Brave Heart]