How art gets generated.
Tim Ingham: We live in a post-Napster world. For most of the 00s it looked as if the professional recorded music industry – artists, managers, record labels – might not have a future at all. Thanks to piracy and the YouTube explosion, consumers had the chance to stop paying for music, and they grabbed it with both ears. The business’s ability to invest in young talent was famously damaged.
Now, this music-making machine finally has an outside chance of recovery. Spotify and similar services give consumers a better experience than that of the inconsistent, guilt-riddled piracy route, and a less fragmented, more curated option than YouTube.
Spotify currently has six million paying subscribers, but it needs 10 times that number before it even starts paying proper money to performers. The only way it can get there is by attracting consumers, and consumers love big bands. Thom Yorke and Nigel Godrich [Yorke’s collaborator in Atoms for Peace] believe they are helping young artists with animportant public protest. By removing themselves from Spotify’s menu, I’d argue they may be damaging new talent’s only hope.
Johnny Lynch: Although the digital era brought about the demise of major-label excess, it also opened the floodgates for a new wave in DIY culture. Suddenly, independent labels and artists had a means of distributing digitally, communicating with their audience directly via their websites and social networks. It seemed like a level playing field.
Spotify is selling a lie, though. In this post-Napster world, the pressure is on for new independent artists to have their music sit alongside massive acts – but we’re not getting anything back. We are told that it’s good exposure, and will lead to increased album and ticket sales, but this simply isn’t the case.
Meanwhile, the majors and large indies get considerable pay-offs for supplying their hefty back catalogue, filled with heritage acts – many of whom no longer exist. That’s money coming in for albums that have already been paid for and don’t need to be marketed. Active artists on big labels are less inclined to revolt because they’ve been paid their recording advances – they don’t particularly care how their music is sold, as that’s always been the label’s job.
Yorke and Godrich should be applauded – they didn’t have to say anything, but I’m glad they did, because the future of music can’t survive on heritage acts alone.
TI: Thom Yorke is a millionaire. He has become so off the back of two things: (i) being an inarguably gifted musician, and (ii) the monstrous amount of money spent on marketing his band by the record industry. If fans aren’t listening to his music on services designed to (eventually) remunerate popular new artists, they’ll be listening via YouTube and pirate sites, which genuinely pay artists the square root of naff all.
What Yorke claims is a stand for new artists looks jarringly like self-preservation to me. The online world has indeed ushered in an era of DIY distribution; equally, it’s reinforced the truism that only the best in their field will genuinely succeed. Ironically, this has long been the mindset of the music industry: if you’re going to commit/invest millions to an act such as Adele in recording, marketing, promo and PR costs, you have to believe she’s the greatest artist on Earth. And then she goes on to generate more money for the UK plc than gorgeous George Osborne could dare to dream.
Fact is, artists need investment: in their recording, their touring and their exposure. Spotify helps hugely with the latter.
JL: We’re agreed that streaming royalties ain’t gonna bring home the bacon. I’m not convinced Spotify significantly increases exposure, though. There are so many other outlets; you can find what you’re looking for faster through search engines, and perhaps get a wee bit of context thrown in for good measure. The current generation of music fans interact more with YouTube and SoundCloud; at least through these channels the artist flexes some control, and has the opportunity to convey personality, without giving away their entire livelihood.
Comparatively, Spotify is a lame, sexless interface. It’s like a grey, government-approved spreadsheet of song titles. There’s no mystique to it, and it breeds an equally unattractive sense of entitlement among subscribers: “I’ve paid my £10, now I want everything.”
I’d be into Spotify if it were more like the music section you get in public libraries. Imagine a digital district library, which stocked a single copy of each album on its digital shelf. Only one person in your town could listen to a specific album at any one time, for a maximum of two weeks. When they’ve finished listening, it’d be returned all digitally scratched up to buggery, skipping every 15 seconds. I’d like Spotify a hell of a lot more if the music slowly degenerated. Oh… and there should be a fine if you return it late. Ch-ching!
TI: No, we ain’t agreed! It’s all about patience. Let’s look at more tech-educated countries than the UK – where governments understand that mobile is the future and aren’t currently siphoning mountains of cash from the public purse to lay already-outdated broadband cables.
In Norway and Sweden, Spotify has achieved the scale it needs to pay big: streaming provided 66% of Norway’s total music market value in H1 2013, as the market grew 17%. Its worth in these territories (and therefore its payments to artists) now looks likely to match the £15-a-CD Britpop heyday from which Thom and co so benefited. Spotify says it pays out upwards of 75% of its earnings to “rights holders” (artists and labels) – other evidence suggests it’s actually closer to 90%. It made fiscal losses in 2010 and 2011 (we’re waiting to hear about FY2012). So it is not quite the greedy wages vacuum some like to suggest.
Spotify, like the music industry, is betting big on worldwide consumer behaviour catching up with Scandinavia. If it does, Spotify and its rivals will have salvaged the income of the recorded music industry and its artists – something that once seemed doomed.
And as far as a consumer experience goes, Spotify, Deezer et al are unparalleled. Spotify’s mission is to provide a service better than piracy. They are smashing it: piracy has plummeted 83% in Norway over the past four years.
JL: Ach, I’m sceptical of those figures. By which I mean I don’t understand them. Are H1 2013 a new Scandi-pop band? I refuse to put Pictish Trail music on Spotify, but my output as Silver Columns is up there, and recent royalty payments from Swedish and Norwegian Spotify are exactly the same as the UK: 0.08p per play. How does that work?
Norwegians and Swedes are a clean-living, svelte-dressed, eco-friendly people; whereas we’re chubby clutter-lovers. We need our vinyl, our CDs and our service station discount cassettes of Aswad. I’m not anti-digital, but we’re fooling ourselves if we think that new music can flourish commercially with this Spotify model.
The only thing that is flourishing is a new breed of party arsehole. You can’t go to someone’s house-warming, or post-christening tea party without some eejit waiting for the opportunity to pounce on an abandoned laptop, so they can crank up Will.i.am or Chase’n’Dave Status. This guy is worse than the guy who turns up with a guitar – because at least that sad sack will have a finite number of Scouting for Girls covers in his repertoire. The unwanted DJ, however, has an unlimited catalogue of tracks from Now That’s What I Call Ministry of Hed Kandi compilations to scour.
Spotify is killing parties, people. Don’t let it kill the music.
By Tim Ingham and Johnny Lynch, The Observer, 7/20/13
For the original article, please click here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jul/21/spotify-bad-for-music-debate