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Why musicians hate Spotify: The big streaming music debate



A Swift explanation

Everyone loves Spotify, right? Well, no. Anyone who's been following the news recently should know that this isn't the case. In fact, many musicians hate it.

The most recent example of this antipathy towards the world's biggest music subscription service is pop starlet Taylor Swift, who's removed her entire back catalogue from Spotify. Why would she do such a thing, given Spotify's immense popularity with 'da kids'?

Rebel music

Swift is only the latest in a series of high-profile artists to withdraw their support from Spotify. Her new album 1989 will almost certainly be this year's biggest seller, but her actions simply follow in the footsteps of the likes of fellow pop warblers Adele and Beyonce, as well as mopey sad-sacks Coldplay.


So what's made a bunch of millionaire musicians throw their toys out of the pram (before presumably throwing the pram out of a hotel window)?

Swift herself has equated music streaming with piracy and file sharing as a reason for record sales dropping, and believes that the price paid to artists for their music is too low. "It’s my opinion that music should not be free," she said in a WSJ article published back in July, "and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album’s price point is."

Radiohead killed the Spotify star

Perhaps the most eloquently vocal opposer of Spotify over the years has been Thom Yorke, whose band Radiohead has taken Swift's prediction to extremes in the past. Back in 2007, Radiohead released an album, In Rainbows, that asked listeners to pay what they felt it was worth to them.

Suffice to say, frontman Yorke is not the world's biggest Spotify fan. Last October, speaking to Mexican website Sopitas, he rather splendidly dubbed the service "the last desperate fart of a dying corpse."


The way Yorke sees it, Spotify (and its ilk) is anything but the future of the music industry that it paints itself to be. In fact, Yorke feels that it represents the dying embers of the old industry, existing and indeed thriving off the back of support from the major labels who have old stock to flog.

Put simply, in Spotify, major labels get another decent revenue stream for their back catalogues of classic material, which would otherwise simply sit there earning modest physical and MP3 sales over the years.

The artists themselves don't get quite such a great deal, of course. New music, particularly from emerging or niche artists, doesn't tend to get an awful lot of cash for the artists through the Spotify system, owing to the minuscule amounts paid per play – an average of between $0.006 and $0.0084 per song stream. With that kind of rate, you need to get an awful lot of people listening to your stuff if you're to generate a decent income from Spotify.

Swift return

Of course, those who are in the position to earn the most from Spotify, such as Taylor Swift, can largely dictate the broader terms on which their music is bought and consumed. In such cases, Spotify's payment system simply can't compete with strong physical sales.

Spotify argues that using such a metric to judge Spotify's value to an artist is overly simplistic and just plain flawed. It also claims that royalties – 70 percent of the company's revenue goes back to rights holders – will only increase as it gains more users, so supporting Spotify now in these relatively early years is an investment for the future for any artist.

Spotify 70

There's also the argument that Spotify can grant increased exposure to smaller artists through its low-cost, suck-it-and-see structure. Listeners are more willing to take a punt on new music when it doesn't cost them anything extra – or so the theory goes.

But even more fundamentally than that – and completely contrary to Taylor Swift's view – Spotify sees itself as a force for good against the evils of music piracy. "We believe," says Spotify, "that our service and the lives of artists will both be best if the world’s music fans enjoy more music than ever before in a legal, paid manner."

Spotify has been called the last gasp of a terminally ill music industry, and the only logical solution to rampant music piracy. While we as consumers can certainly have our say in this argument simply by voting with our wallets, ultimately it's the most influential content providers, such as Taylor Swift, that will determine where our money goes.

SEE ALSO: What's the best music streaming service to download?


November 7, 2014, 1:25 pm

Spotify is brilliant. I've always wanted my own jukebox (I made one once by sticking an mp3 player and speakers to the wall). I don't pirate music anymore and I'm happy to pay for Spotify. The record companies had it good for too long. I've bought plenty of CDs which were listened to once and never again. There has always been a lot of filler in music and if it's just not good enough it won't be listened to and the artist won't get anything. Which sounds fair enough to me. Quality over quantity. Good albums and songs will earn something at least. Surely. Anyway, it's a jukebox in the palm of your hand!

Tom Carter

November 7, 2014, 2:42 pm

This argument is raised by artists quite often but it always seems to ignore both the fact that spotify doesnt cut into the money that artists make from tours (which is where they make most of their money) or how many people using spotify are people who otherwise wouldnt actually buy their music if they didnt try it on spotify (i.e they ilegaly download it or just wouldnt buy it), it seems to be following other arguments on piracy where they assume that one illegally downloaded film = 1 lost sale, which it doesnt. Often those people, if they couldnt download, just wouldnt buy in the first place

Its also worth noting that in the EU more money is now being made on streaming services than outright sales on itunes (another reason Apple are trying to get into the streaming market) http://techcrunch.com/2014/...

Its clear the market is moving in this direction now and IMO it seems obvious that artists need to get onboard with the idea that services like spotify etc are the "social media" they use to get people interested in their product first, before they look to make their money on concerts and tour dates


November 7, 2014, 3:52 pm

You're right, spotify probably doesn't cut into the profits from a tour. but there are several points to consider around this comment too. Firstly, you're assuming we're talking about Taylor Swift on a worldwide tour, not small up-and-comings who won't profit (considerably) from touring. Also the people who now stream rather than steal probably wouldn't care to pay for a ticket to see the artist live either. So it's unlikely to actually promote a tour.

The problem is we're in a time where everyone expects everything they cannot hold in their hands for free. Apps (AKA applications)? Music? Operating Systems? services (like Facebook, for example).
This has only come to fruition in the last few years, and it's a very strange phenomena.

Whilst you may be right that more money is being made through streaming than typical sales (physical or download) - who is making that money? Spotify and the record labels?

Whilst it's clear more people are more feverishly consuming music than before, just because our method of consumption has changed doesn't mean the music that artists spend years (and lots of money) creating should be had for nothing (or next to nothing).
How about Spotify lets you listen to everything a set number of times at which point you have to buy it? Or how about a new service where artists host the music and the service centralises and streams the collective for you with the majority of the profit going to the artist?
Pay per play?

There's loads of ways to get around the issue, but to deny it because you're getting a few tracks cheap (that you listen to a few times, then never again) is ignorant.

Alex Walsh

November 7, 2014, 4:00 pm

A millionaire is complaining that a streaming service isn't making her rich enough? It's funny but I don't see Tom Cruise et al decrying Netflix etc as destroying the movie industry. I know it's slightly different in terms of release dates etc but honestly- the automatic assumption that being successful in the entertainment industry should make you a multi millionaire by right is pretty damn odd.

Prem Desai

November 7, 2014, 4:27 pm

I won't pretend to understand the workings of the music industry and am happy to be corrected, but does spotify pay artists like Taylor Swift and Beyonce directly??

I suspect not. I reckon most of the money goes to their record labels and that they are being screwed by the recording companies and not the streaming services.

Obviously streaming service will play hard, but ultimately it the recording companies that need to be less greedy.

Mark Stanbrook

November 7, 2014, 5:12 pm

Completely agree. Make good music and we'll listen to it over and over and you'll get rich. All those filler songs on albums are a waste of cash on a physical purchase.

Something else these objecting artists seem to forget is that many of us already own the physical media of many of the songs we are playing on Spotify. It's just more convenient to use Spotify than to rip our old CD's and LP's (not to mention the absurd grey legality of doing so). So they're getting paid again and again for stuff we already own and don't need to pay for.

I've rediscovered artists I'd forgotten about through Spotify and discovered many entirely new ones that I would never have bought anything by. I consume more music now than ever before. Any artist who's not grateful for that is either blind or being ripped off by their label.


November 8, 2014, 12:32 am

Suddenly when it comes to art and software everyone is a marxist, everyone should have it for free, the just cause against the record industries.. What a brave world this is.
You can pay a dollar for a coke, 50 cents to use the toilet, but to listen a song $0.008 is perfectly fine…What a privilege this is for the modern artist.

Antti Niemelä

November 8, 2014, 8:20 am

Looking at Coldplay's top 5 songs on Spotify and summing up the times listened to each of the songs and multiplying it with the 0.0084 dollars per single listening we get a little over 4 million dollars. I guess that's peanuts in the money-burning lifestyle of a megastars like Coldplay. Dividing the 4M with the going price for the album at Amazon, which is around 10 dollars, you get over half of the album sales their album has sold in the US as of October. One fourth of the albums sold world wide. And out of those albums sold they get some percentage. Perhaps the reason big stars hate Spotify is that they fail at math?

I personally would never pay for a Coldplay album, however I have listened to them in Spotify, meaning that they are getting some money from me which they normally would not get at all!


November 9, 2014, 9:52 am

leaving aside publishers who usually accrue revenues for performance royalties and then take their cut, most artists are also tied into management contracts, which take a further 20-25% of ALL monies earned, even if the management company had no part in securing said monies. In recent years these management contracts have become more & more outrageous, with some i've seen continuing to collect a % fee for 15 years after termination & with clauses built in so that these percentages apply not just to cold hard money but any shares the artist might try to take instead of money payment etc..


November 9, 2014, 7:50 pm

Exactly. Pure 1stworld/Middle Amerikan/bourgeoisie hypocrisy and ignorance. these people are pathetically uncouth, and probably stupid/detestable.


November 9, 2014, 8:08 pm

"Make good music and we'll listen to it over and over and you'll get rich."

Most stupid and ignorant statement on here. The best artists right now (and for a while) are not rich, exactly because the opposite is happening.


November 10, 2014, 12:11 am

Spotify collects musicians souls, gathers them all up, and feeds off them for profit..Anyways their old news now..new ways are coming

Dave T

November 10, 2014, 9:39 am

Music sold on physical medium is a relic of the 20th century. No-one uses CDs these days and trying to sync your MP3 file collection across your phone-tablet-laptop and other devices is a massive headache. I believe that subscription based music streaming services are the ONLY way to go. With Spotify you get decent quality sound and incredible convenience - if an artist decides to boycott it, then the youth of today will simply listen to it in poor quality on You Tube, which is a greater crime against music.

However, I agree that the artists don't get paid enough via streaming services. I would be happy to pay more for Spotify if I knew it gave the artists a cut they were happy with. Or pay a premium to listen to newer music perhaps.


November 10, 2014, 10:29 am

The reality is that in all of human history anyone who fancied to make a living as an artist was hard up against it financially, except for the lucky few. Streaming has given more artists a better shot at making a living or perhaps I should say democratized the process far more than studios with their overheads could afford.

Google Music is my choice for music streaming because I do like to buy the albums of artists I truly like beyond what streaming offers. Having said that, artists make most of their money from performances and that is how it should be.

Mark Stanbrook

November 10, 2014, 1:10 pm

You fail to understand the point completely. Streaming services act like pubs, clubs and radio stations providing a long term royalty stream that may seem small in the short term compared to album sales but in the long term provides a more stable and significantly higher income for GOOD music.

Swift's claim that music shouldn't be free is a logical fallacy when it comes to Spotify because it isn't free on Spotify. Yorke's claim that this is a 'dying fart' is also a complete fallacy as streaming of music is only on the increase and both the industry and the consumers have embraced it whole-heartedly.

There is no reason why we the paying consumer should fill the pockets of artists for producing rubbish. We can now choose not to play tracks 7 and 9 on that album because they're rubbish rather than be forced to hand over the payment for the album as a whole, so it does exactly what I said, encourages quality productions.

You claim that the 'best artists' are not rich, yet we know they are. These complainers are multi-millionaires. And as for 'best' that is entirely up to the subjective opinion of the consumer. I'd rather listen to Skeewif or Beethoven than Taylor 'no life experience to put into my songs' Swift.

Mark Stanbrook

November 10, 2014, 1:16 pm

I don't think you understand what Marxism is at all. Under Marxism every artist, good or bad, would be paid the same wage. The same as a toilet cleaner and the same as a rocket scientist. Spotify and other paid streaming services are the epitome of democracy and the free market. You pay for exactly what you want when you want, but pay you must, either through a fee or through advertising. The artists then accrue revenue on just how popular their work is. Not simply how many people bought it (the pre-existing model) or a fixed fee (the Marxist model), many of whom then shelve it and never give it another listen.


November 10, 2014, 8:28 pm

Well, i am sorry but i don't think you understand what i wrote,
plus and you are actually debating your own point.
You can't have Marxism only for art, and outside that have a capitalism. It doesn't make any sense.
And of course it is not Marxism either, spotify is making more money than each one of these artists through their service.

Patrick Woods

July 13, 2015, 12:13 am

"artists make most of their money from performances and that is how it should be."

Says who? Who made that rule? There are many artists who make their living strictly on recorded music - movies, publishing, ect.

Patrick Woods

July 13, 2015, 12:27 am

"We can now choose not to play tracks 7 and 9 on that album because they're rubbish."

This is a flimsy argument. First of all, someone else may think tracks 7 and 9 are awesome, and you think they suck. So someone else is filling the pockets of the same artist for producing the songs that you call "rubbish." When you go to a concert, most artists will play at least one or two songs that you don't like, or at least didn't care about hearing. Does that mean you should only have to pay a fraction of the ticket price?

Plus, if you really feel that the artists you listen to have too much filler on their albums, then you need to seek out better artists.

Mark Stanbrook

July 13, 2015, 6:42 am

It's not a flimsy argument at all. You just strengthened it for me. If you like those tracks go ahead, play them, pay for them. The weight of opinion will show the artist which tracks were really successful.

As for going to gigs that's an entirely different social contract where you surrender your control over your input.

Your last point makes no sense at all. If there's a track I like on an album I otherwise am indifferent to I should accept that the rest of the album is the 'price' for the one good track and listen to it all or I should listen to none of it? Well that is the end of compilation albums!

Patrick Woods

July 13, 2015, 11:23 pm

I think I need to clarify that I in no way meant you should force yourself to an "all or nothing" approach when it comes to music. I never said you should like all the songs, or else throw it out. If you only like a couple of songs that's fine, but I was merely suggesting that if this is such an issue for you, it might be worth it to start looking at artists who write more for the album instead of writing for the charts.

There are many bands that actually take their time on each song, and craft their albums to where each one sounds different so you don't have any filler tracks. Of course I'm getting into subjective territory here, depending on what one's tastes are. But one thing I've noticed is that the albums where there is only a couple of good tracks tend to fall in the category of formula music, where the artist writes a one or two catchy hits, and the rest sounds the same. It's quite the opposite when a particular band bases the whole album around a concept, and makes the whole thing a piece of art.

These are the kind of albums I listen to, where the all the songs are good, and not just a few. There will always be weaker tracks, but that doesn't mean it's rubbish. Listening to a band for only one or two songs is a foreign concept to me.


December 29, 2015, 7:52 pm

It is fine for artists to not like the financial terms of Spotify...but they make an error when they try and tell people how they "should" go about listening to music. Like it or not, they are making a product people consume. I too am an artist of sorts, but I am not to naive to know that if I am selling it, then it's a product. The consumer dictates the demand. There is not demand for CDs anymore; there is not demand for downloading MP3s either. Now, with mobile devices, people want to access their music library anywhere without it taking up space on their devices. Music has to be available on a cloud (not a physical format, nor even stored on one), and accessing new music has to be instantaneous, not a downloading/uploading/syncing process.
The fact that people pay for such services show they are still willing to pay for music if it is CONVENIENT enough. Going to individual artist's websites to dowload their free album is not very convenient. Many would rather pay for instant access to almost anything they want to listen to at the touch of a finger than spend time/energy searching for free stuff, which is what pirating turned into once it was successfully decentralized. Pirating was clamped down on, but whatever came up in its place was not serving the demands of the consumer; Spotify filled that void. That artists may not be getting their fair share sucks for them, but trying to tell people HOW to consume their product is not the solution, because we aren't going to listen. Instead, they need to acknowledge WHY people like this service, what the DON'T like about it as well, and create a service which fills those voids and makes Spotify obsolete.

Volker Kerkhoff

June 6, 2016, 3:14 pm

Well, music and writing are the only forms of art where I can think of the artist getting a continuous stream of revenue from a one-time creative act. The writer writes his book once, the musician records his song once and henceforth gets paid royalties for any time a copy of his book or his record is sold. Unlike other forms of creative art, like sculpture or painting, the original work can be reproduced over and over, even more so easy with the advent of digital technologies. This hasn't been like this forever, at least not for composers. Many many of the classic composers were employed by kings, princes and nobles or the church and were paid a fixed wage or a one-off payment for their works. Then their work would be performed by performers would eventually get paid for doing so in front of an audience. Then technology came and these performances were captured one time and could be infinitely duplicated and "re-created" in the comfort of our own home, bummer! Bars, clubs and many other posh venues installed Record Players and Tape Decks and wouldn't hire musicians any more to play.
Yes, music is an art, but also a craft. The composer should, sure, get adequate one-time payment to pay for the (also one-time) creative act, but the real craftsmen are the musicians performing live in front of an audience.
Furthermore, I shiver at the prices the Music Industry is still charging for "physical" music on CDs and Vinyls from their long-paid-for back catalogue that literally cost a few dimes to make. Come on, guys, Neil Young's "Harvest", a multi-Gold Folkrock album that has brought Reprise Records and Mr. Young millions is now being sold on Vinyl for 33 Euros (35$) on Amazon. The value of all the materials involved, let's say, cover and all, 2$, let everyone in the sales and sistribution process and also Mr. Young earn some more, retail 9,99$ would be OK, but come on, 35$. Doesn't sound to "Proper" or "Righteous" (which is what "Pono", Neil Young's Streaming Music Service translates to) to me...

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