'We are never getting back together' - Was Taylor Swift right to break up with streaming services?
Hey Guys! This is a Guest Post, written by my super-talented best friend,
David Dawson, who's in his final year studying Music at University (so he probably has more of a right to judge music than I do!). Hope you like his piece!
Who remembers the good old days when you would log onto iTunes and buy a song for 99p, or when you’d rip all your cd music onto your Sony Ericsson with the slide up screen to then sit on the back of the bus eagerly Bluetoothing them all to your mates? To say this was still happening less than ten years ago is pretty crazy, especially in comparison with how most of us consume music these days. I am one of the millions of people who pay monthly for the pleasure of accessing all of my favourite tracks in one place and in one convenient app.
I imagine that most of the people who read this will have some use or experience of Apple Music, Spotify or any other streaming service, whether it’s using seven different email addresses to push your 30-day trial to the max, having a free membership at the sacrifice of adverts or paying a full subscription. My question is, should we? Obviously, as a consumer the benefits seem logical, why wouldn’t we want all the music we could think of, and more, all playable from your tinny mobile speaker? Streaming services allow us to access music in a way we have never experienced before, giving us the chance to not only enjoy the same tunes we know and love, but to find new music quicker than ever. Obscure music for me used to mean Track 10 from an album only known for the title song, but with streaming services you can pick yourself a band no one has heard of and shove it in the faces of your mates hoping to get discovery rights - should they hit fame.
So, what is my big issue with streaming? Well, it’s not exactly a secret, thanks to Taylor Swift and Jay-Z, that artists don’t get much money from streams. In fact, one single stream normally amounts to a fraction of a fraction of a penny being paid out to the artist. Of that tiny pie, the record label eats most of the good stuff, leaving only the accidental fruit seed and that little bit that got dropped on the floor for the artists. A look into the proper figures would tell us that labels actually do pretty well from our extensive use of streaming, with the three major labels making a combined $6.93 billion in 2018, and that this is up ten per cent from the figure in 2017 and will probably rise again for 2019. This for me causes an issue with our perception, as we all know a tiny piece of a near $7 billion dollar-sized pie is actually pretty big, but does that make it fair?
When Taylor Swift decided to effectively boycott streaming services, removing her music initially in 2012 and refusing to release her new album at the time, Red, on their services, I, as I imagine many people did, scoffed at the news. The thought of someone like Taylor Swift complaining about how much she was being paid seemed almost laughable to me, and I certainly wasn’t going to make a wooden sign and start marching in her support.
But should we have all done more to get on her side? Yes, Taylor Swift doesn’t exactly need more money, but the reality is that streaming services don’t get artists the money they deserve for the hard work they put into their music, and this is what she was protesting. Whatever job you do, and however much you earn, I’d say it’s fair for anyone to ask for an acceptable amount of payment. Of course, Taylor was brought around once some terms were put in place, but the picture hasn’t much changed since.
The issue for me seems to be that streaming services have the monopoly. Even for a huge artist, if your music is not on all the major streaming sites it is a fact that the exposure you and your music gains will be smaller, and as streaming counts for charts these days, your chances of hitting higher in the Top 40 is significantly reduced. This still may be hard for most people to relate to, so the issue I would raise, and the main issue as far as I am concerned, is how this affects smaller artists and new music. Being a user of Spotify I know how great it is for discovering new music, as is Apple Music and other streaming services. I can easily find playlists to match my exact needs or mood, or that fit into a particular genre that I enjoy, and within these playlists, while I may find some of my old favourites there is almost always one or two new tunes that really catch my attention. Therefore, for an artist that is just starting out, or even on the way up, is not being on the popular streaming services really an option? The priority for these artists at this stage is obviously to gain as much exposure as they possibly can and to find an audience for their music, which streaming allows.
However, artists like this often don’t have huge backings of record labels and to continue recording music and trying to expand revenue is a requirement. When we consider these artists, instead of millionaire popstars, we start to realise how unfair payments for music are a big issue, which is why I questioned whether we should have offered more support, or at least approval, when Swift tried to make a point. Similarly to how Swift threw her own weight around to make some progress, other larger artists are actually able to use their popularity and streaming figures to negotiate more favourable terms for themselves. However, this is a luxury that smaller artists do not enjoy, meaning that while established and rich artists may be able to make some extra money, those with smaller followings and less financial backing are only able to make the minimum, supporting that age old saying about the rich getting richer whilst the poor get poorer.
Jay-Z was another big name who recognised the injustice, setting up his own streaming site, Tidal, and moving all his music across. Despite Tidal paying more, it is still significantly small amounts per stream, which still means that artists would have to get thousands of listeners to make any significant amount, which for most artists starting out is not a reality.
The ultimate point that I am trying to make, therefore, is that as much as we use or enjoy streaming services, maybe we should have been marching with Taylor and supporting the progress she was trying to make, and that now we should still be scrutinising these big streaming services and trying to generate change. As was the problem with Swift’s actions, it is hard to get people to empathise or sympathise with a millionaire expecting more money. But I would emphasise to people that no matter what their vocation or salary, if they were not paid a fair amount for their honest labour, they too would feel a lack of justice, and that when we consider the smaller artists attempting to make a career for themselves, is it fair that they have to accept tiny payments in exchange for their exposure and advancement? After all, there would be little point in having a great platform to enjoy music on, if there was no new music for us to enjoy.
Hello! I'm currently studying Philosophy & Theology at Oxford University, UK. Having always loved writing and music in equal measure, and having always hated decision-making, I figured hey, why do I need to choose between the two?