Spotify debate

SpotifyArtists vs. SpotifyForArtists spoof site

Thursday, December 5, 2013 - 12:10pm

The “Spotify Debate” has been raised to a new level. It features the same debate points, but now presented as dueling websites. Until now, the war of words and philosophies was waged in sniping blog posts and interview quotes among well-known musicians and pundits on both sides of the streaming music fence -- such as David Lowery, Thom Yorke, David Byrne, Billy Bragg, and Bob Lefsetz.

Here’s what’s going on this week. 

On Monday, subscription music service Spotify launched SpotifyArtists, a resource site for musicians that also (naturally) advocates for Spotify as a distribution platform. The site presents an anatomy of Spotify royalty infrastructure, demystifying how payouts are calculated and clearing up misunderstandings. The site received widespread media attention for its transparent revelations and its resourceful reach-out to musicians.

Although Spotify’s website is named “Spotify Artists” in the page header, the browser-tab branding is “Spotify for Artists,” and a banner on the home page reads, “Welcome to Spotify for Artists!”

That’s important because today a new site appeared: SpotifyForArtists. With a similar look-and-feel, and nearly identical logo and trademark branding, it is confusing and fooling people, including Radiohead-affiliated producer Nigel Godrich, who nearly burst into flames on Twitter before being set straight about the hoax.

The spoof site is a poker-faced takeover of Spotify’s voice, realigned to the priorities of its most vehement critics. “We’ve really changed our ways,” the opening header declaims. Scrolling down the page reveals Spotify’s faux-intention to begin selling albums (with 95% of proceeds going to the artist), offer a consulting service to help musicians write better contracts with labels, and eliminate “secret math” describing how artists get paid.

It’s all entertaining (if arguably actionable), but with a serious purpose of continuing the debate and opposing the educational and peacemaking intent of Spotify’s real artist resource site. Whether it succeeds depends on individual viewpoint.

Spotify as star-maker

Wednesday, November 27, 2013 - 12:05pm

The “Spotify debate” swirls around one core hypothesis: Musicians don’t get enough value from the service. As such, Spotify is a surrogate for music streaming sites, which promote access instead of ownership, and attention instead of purchases.

The debate flared up again this week, in a caustic exchange between Thom Yorke of Radiohead and Moby. Moby called Yorke “an old guy yelling at fast trains.” Yorke emitted a Twitter yawn.

Spotify evangelists, especially founder Daniel Ek, repeatedly preach that it is still early days for streaming, and that massive future scaling will eventually solve complaints about the model’s revenue potential for recording artists. (Spotify’s investors have reportedly bought some time to build into that future with an eye-popping new funding of $250-million.) 

But the entire subject of artist revenue on Spotify might be moot in the long run. What if streaming services are really about exposure of potential stars? What if Spotify’s true role is more about leverage than earnings? In other words, is Spotify the new radio as a hit-making influencer? 

A just-published piece in Forbes lays out a timeline of Lorde’s success in Spotify, identifying Spotify’s role in building awareness of the artist and her not-yet-hit single, “Royals.” Key to this conception of Spotify as a star-maker is the early-mover power of virality inside the app. Two weeks after entering the Spotify catalog, “Royals” was featured on an influential public playlist followed by nearly a million users. That was back in April. From there it jumped to Spotify’s in-house charting system, where it climbed quickly. Two months after that, the song entered radio playlists. One month after that, “Royals” was recognized on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

This timeline is meaningful and emblematic of “crowd wisdom” which is supposed to shape a more democratic media landscape, but which so often doesn’t seem to. The Spotify crowd pushed Lorde into broadcast’s gigantic audience, and onto the charts. As to Spotify’s much-debated role as an earnings machine, “Royals” has been streamed 100-million times in Spotify alone. That would probably furnish a good-news earnings story for the music service if the figures were ever disclosed.

Beck issues complaint against Spotify number … we’ve lost track

Friday, November 15, 2013 - 12:05pm

Not to trivialize business issues for musicians, but the “Spotify debate” rages on which increasing repetition. Some of the publicized outbursts against Spotify result from musicians being asked about it by journalists.

The latest high-profile musician to take a club to the music service’s business model is Beck, who was granting an interview to an Argentinian publication during a tour of South America. “Streaming is inevitable,” Beck stipulates, and regards the royalty payouts unsustainable. As with other musicians who have issued objections of streaming as a music-consumption model, Beck views Spotify in snapshot mode. He does not consider a level of global scaling across many platforms that might raise musician revenues to higher levels, despite acknowledging that streaming is moving into the scene unstoppably.

Interestingly, Beck is distressed by the audio quality of Spotify streams, and presumably most other platforms. It’s not the first time we’ve heard that complaint, but audiophiles generally fight a losing battle in this regard. (Starting with similar complaints about CDs.) Access and convenience are core consumer values. When millions of people are satisfied with listening to compressed music through cheap earbuds attached to a phone, the audiophile’s burden is heavy.

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