In Defense of Spotify

And Why Death Cab’s Benjamin Gibbard Is Wrong

 

“The meteor’s hit. The dinosaurs have all died. And it’s time for whoever’s next to take over. And I think it’s a good time for new ideas.”

– Pete Wentz, Fall Out Boy

That was 2007. At the time, Radiohead released the pay-what-you-will In Rainbows. Record companies were clamoring to figure out how to monetize albums. It was a time when everyone – let’s not kid ourselves – was stealing music on the Internet. The music industry was in panic mode.

Back then, I produced a video piece for MTV News titled “The Future of Music.” You can view it below. 

The conclusion: in the future there will be a “jukebox in the sky.”

“It’s the promise of being able to walk down the street with your mobile device and just ‘zzzip’ I’ve got a new album,” Bill Werde, editor-in-chief of Billboard told me. “Look, I’ve got the whole Led Zeppelin catalog or I’ve got everything Kanye West recorded in the last five years just like that. 

Spotify is this idea fully realized.

 

 

The concept of “buying” music is now completely irrelevant. Forget it. Done. Kaput.

Early adopters have figured it out – in the future all of us will “rent” music via outlets like Spotify, MOG and Rdio. Think of it as cable television. You don’t purchase your weekly dose of “The Walking Dead” or “South Park.” You subscribe to cable and get them for that cost.

Charles Caldas is CEO of Merlin, a company that represents over 10,000 indie labels and helps them negotiate better deals from Spotify and other services.

“Artists can actually make more money from a single fan who streams an album over the course of their lifetime than they would from the same fan if he or she had purchased the album,” Caldas told Evolver.

Why am I ranting now?

I found out this week that Death Cab for Cutie frontman Benjamin Gibbard is not on Spotify. I wanted to hear his brand-new solo debut. But now I refuse to pay $9.99 on iTunes because I already pay $9.99 a month for Spotify. Furthermore, now that the album is out, it’s not available for streaming. The YouTube clip is now “private.” I’ve supported Death Cab, buying concert tickets since 2003 and seeing them several times. 

The Beatles aren’t on Spotify. I don’t mind because I already own most of their albums. Metallica’s albums aren’t on Spotify. But that’s because they’re greedy bastards.

It’s not like artists are not getting paid from Spotify. Far from it. So says Caldas.

When a person buys a CD, that is one unit sold, Caldas says. However, if a person streams an album or song a thousand times over a lifetime it’s much more lucrative.

Exactly.

Spotify is a novel concept. It’s changed my listening habits. It’s changed my life. And in my opinion, it’s here to stay.

 

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9 Responses

  1. Dave Gugliota says:

    So if Ben Gibbard decides to never make his music available for streaming, will you ever buy it?

    I’m a bit old-fashioned myself, and I prefer a real, physical copy of the album itself. I like having the artwork and the liner notes, and I have the flexibility to rip the music to whatever device I see fit. I don’t trust stream- or cloud-based services in the long term, as what happens to the music after the stream/cloud provider decides it’s no longer profitable to offer the service? This is similar to what happened to the people who used Kodak’s photo-storage service. As the firm went into bankruptcy, they gave the customers a deadline to get their pictures off the service as it would be canceled.

    I don’t use Spotify much (the last time I used it was to stream Jack White’s solo album), though I now use Pandora regularly on my smartphone. It has replaced my FM radio for overnight listening. I am also a longtime subscriber to eMusic, though I still prefer to purchase the real deal.

    Amazon has been a godsend in this regard as I go through my collection and replace my old cassettes with CDs. I can get used, out-of-print discs for around $3.50, which includes shipping. This is far cheaper than eMusic, iTunes or Amazon MP3, though granted it’s on an album-only basis.

  2. Dave Gugliota says:

    After watching the MTV News clip, I’ve noticed that things haven’t really changed in the years since. The old-guard music industry (labels and radio) still haven’t caught up to the new way of doing things. For emerging artists now, it’s more important to have a good management and promotional team on board than to get signed to a big label.

  3. admin says:

    I like Spotify because I have access to everything, EVERYTHING. Except apparently the new Ben Gibbard. I won’t buy the album. I have gone to 3 or 4 Death Cab concerts since the early 2000s and supported the band financially. I have bought t-shirts.

    I find this to be a slap in the face. As far as Spotify, I find that I am discovering new artists more and I’m inspired to see more live music. For bands, that’s where the money is – touring. If the problem was how to monetize the music industry – problem solved with Spotify, MOG and Rdio. I want to get a turntable and start collecting vinyl. That would be a very special experience to listen to my favorite albums on vinyl.

    Re: artwork. If you have an AppleTV, your cover art will show up on the TV screen huge. CDs are obviously small for cover art. Plus, with Spotify you can control your music on your stereo with your smart phone. It’s like a remote controlled jukebox. I love it.

    • Dave Gugliotta says:

      I have not found electronic covers and liner notes to be comparable to the real thing. As an example, I will use “Night Castle,” the latest album from the Trans-Siberian Orchestra (which I’m listening to right now, conveniently enough). It’a a double-disc set with a tri-fold cover and a thick booklet containing the backstory of the music along with complete lyrics. I like that I can be in my recliner, away from my computer, to peruse this material.

      I also understand that most people don’t share my preferences, and having all the music accessible via the smartphone is very handy.

      I can also understand Gibbard’s reasons for not streaming his album. I have a handy recording utility as part of my Roxio media suite that can capture any audio that’s piped to my speakers, and it would be very easy to pirate the music that way. Also, I expect Gibbard wants to have his $9.99 up front, rather than dribbled out a third of a cent at a time. He is apparently willing to take the risk of losing a few fans in exchange for the front-end money.

      The effectiveness of Gibbard’s ploy remains to be seen, however, as his album is already available on the torrent sites.

  4. Bill Gioconda says:

    I don’t think that the argument about artists being paid well by Spotify holds much water. Here’s a thorough article on the finances behind streaming music: http://thenextweb.com/apple/2012/09/03/less-than-a-stinkin-cent/

    Unfortunately, Spotify and MOG don’t pay that well. It’s one of the reasons that Paul McCartney pulled nearly all of his music from streaming services. There’s a lot of music not available on Spotify because of how poorly they pay artists. This includes Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, AC/DC, and even Radiohead.

  5. conortv says:

    Artists don’t make money from selling their music anymore. They make money from touring and merch. The streaming music is primarily promotional.

    From what I understand, earning music from Spotify and other streaming services is not instant money. Artists will make money over a lengthy period of time of people streaming music year after year after year.

    Major labels are irrelevant now. It’s all DIY. This model is better than everyone stealing music on The Pirate Bay, etc.

    Even classic artists like Paul McCartney make money from a myriad of merch – anything from Beatles T-shirts to coffee mugs. Same goes for Pink Floyd. and Led Zeppelin. Tons of merchandise. And the concert tickets are exorbitant. Shameful in my opinion.

    And Radiohead’s music is available on Spotify. They were the band that gave away an album for free or a price of the listener’s choice.

  6. Rua says:

    Said perfectly, Conor.

  7. gregg says:

    Many bands can’t tour. They are 30-somethings with jobs. Or with kids. They can’t “pack up their stuff and go on the road for 3 weeks”. I love buying CDs and having the physical object. And I love the feeling of scarcity and collectability. And of having the ultimate back-up and ultimate quality sound. My history since 2005 or so is in iTunes. And will continue to be. Spotify is not good for bands. They make, what, an eight of a cent for a song play? Many “indie bands” of the past relied on selling 2,000 CDs to break even on their project — $10k-$20k revenue. Now, those “indie bands” (and I’m not talking Sleigh Bells, Beach House, etc — I’m talking the bands that haven’t “broken”), will NEVER make back a fraction of their costs to record. Yes, whilst Spotify surely may help a Sleigh Bells or Beach House to be discovered, there are thousands of others who will make $5 bucks becasue of digital streaming, rather than the $5k or so that they would’ve made in the old model.

  8. gregg says:

    Also, the commoditized “random” listening of “whatever is on a playlist” has changed the appreciation of the individual artist and the desire to explore deeper into the catalog of bands who “have a song” that one likes. This isn’t about the rabid music fan, who does indeed beenfit from ease-fo-discoverability that streaming services provide. I’m guessing 1% of people benefit from this ease of discoverability, whilst 99% of people “settle for” whatever “happens to be on a playlist” and end their exploration and discovery at that. For most people “it just doesn’t matter enough”.

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