Shockwaves were sent screaming across the music industry last week as the reigning queen of pop abruptly snatched her songs back from the clutches of Spotify and sent cries of despair through the few people on the planet who didn’t actually buy her album last week. Everyone is covering this story, from NPR to the Harvard Business Review. Of course, I realize I’m writing a blog on Joe Bonamassa – serious blues and rock musician. So why the heck am I talking about a pop star like Taylor Swift?
Yeah, that’s a fair question. But hey, this is a blog about Joe and his music, and since that music is currently available on Spotify, I think it’s a relevant and interesting topic – should artists like Joe follow suit and pull their music from the mouth of the beast before it devours it in the name of free streaming? Should artists continue to accept peanuts for the heart and soul they’ve poured into every note, beat, and lyrics?
You may have noticed that Taylor Swift is pretty much everywhere these days. A veritable music industry juggernaut, her face is everywhere on your TV set and computer screen. She sold basically a zillion albums in its first week available, and the songs are just ubiquitous. Seriously, she’s everywhere. Try to get away from her, I dare you.
Nope. See, I told you.
So you better believe that Spotify sat up and took notice when she abandoned ship.
Taylor Swift, like all of us, has to be responsible to herself, and to that end she is free to charge whatever she thinks the market will bear for her LP. After all, it’s not like she owes us free or extremely cheap art. And it’s not as if her fans aren’t willing to pay for it. The proof is in the pudding, the pudding being 1.2 million albums sold and counting. And she made what is seemingly a rational economic decision to put the kibosh on the Spotify connection.
Now Joe Bonamassa is obviously a different sort of musician, in a markedly different genre. But I think we can all agree that Joe’s fans are passionate music lovers and extremely dedicated to listening to great music. If that’s the case, it would seem to imply that Joe should also pull his music from the platform wouldn’t it? If Spotify underpays artists, and Joe can sell his music elsewhere, shouldn’t he?
I don’t actually think so. I think there are benefits to the consumer other than making music we like available for free, and to the artist beyond the actual royalty they receive from a play of their song. What kind of benefits? Well, I can say from personal experience that there are absolutely artists I have listened to on Spotify that I never would have heard had their music not been readily available to me on that platform.
So yes, I enjoy the benefits of free music. But if I like what I hear, it cultivates me as a new fan, and suddenly I find myself downloading the tunes off of iTunes, buying a ticket to the concert the next time the artist is in town, and purchasing a t-shirt to show off what a damn good time I had at their show. And I have a hunch that I’m not alone.
Look, as a fan of Joe and his music, I want him to do what’s best for his career so that he continues to make great music for a long, long time, and so that as many people as possible can get to hear how incredible it is. And yes, there’s a problem with the current economics of the music industry – everyone needs to be paid fairly. I just think that Spotify can still be a part of the solution.