“We could have saved the Earth but we were too damned cheap.” – Kurt Vonnegut
Now that quote might seem a tad hyperbolic since we’re talking about the music industry, but let’s try to live up to it!
For those of you not familiar with the drama here’s the jistory (portmanteau of “jist” & “history”).
With the release of Swift’s album “1989” she chose to pull all of her catalogue from Spotify since she felt that the company doesn’t farily compensate artists, musicians, producers etc. Spotify tried to convince her to come back by being cute about it with the following tweet:
We were young when we first saw you but now there’s 40MM who say stay, stay, stay. It’s a love story baby
What ensued was basically a back and forth involving artists, bloggers and companies taking sides and explaining why Taylor or Spotify was in the wrong or right about this issue.
Regardless of the hypocrisy of Taylor Swift pulling her music off Spotify but leaving it on Pandora (who gives a flying duck about Pandora btw?) or Daniel Ek being caricatured as some kind of corporate Gollum one fact remains.
Spotify CAN’T win.
Let’s go back to the late 90’s and early 00’s. We had Napster, Kazaa and a handful of others supplying music to the masses for free. Never before had music been so easy to get a hold of and you could find awesome bands and artists you would never had heard of without these file sharing-programs.
The floodgates had been opened and the music industry tried in vain to close them. Leading the charge was a little band called Metallica. Yeah, that turned out well!
They were in no way wrong about being screwed out of money but instead of looking at it and saying: “Cool! Digital distribution is obviously the future, let’s look at how we could make this dang thang work!” they opted for… Well…
Spotify is still a young company with huge potential. But unless they take a long hard look at how these things have played out in the past they’re gonna have a bad time. Whether they want to or not they’re representing the “establishment”. Just like Metallica and the record companies did.
The only difference is that almost 15 years ago a lot of artists stood behind the people downloading music. They couldn’t understand why some bands and record companies would vilify people who obviously hungered to have their music delivered this way. The distrust built to a fever pitch and an industry more or less collapsed because they refused to adapt to consumer demands.
I’m not saying that ALL of these people wanted to pay for the music, but a lot of us did. We were just waiting for someone to step up to Napster and say: “Hey, let’s make this work!”. You can google the rest: “…and then there was iTunes”. Or watch the documentary “Downloaded”!
The consumers never forgot that a lot of artists stood behind their fans and said: “We’re with YOU guys, screw the suits!”. This built trust between the people creating the art and their audience. The business people who could have acted and become heroes just added to the whole notion of “corporate pigs screw musicians out of money”.
So, Spotify is in the same predicament. If they choose to maintain their current model they’ll be labled cheap ass bastards. We need to remember that facts and figures aren’t driving factors for decision making in humans.
What drives us are stories and feelings. Reading about 100 people getting killed in war doesn’t move us as much as reading about a single girl losing her parents and having to rely on the kindness of strangers in that same war. Logical? Not much, but that’s how we work.
The stories being told about Spotify right now could lead to more and more artists pulling their material and either forcing Spotify to change their approach or having the consumers abandon the platform in favor of something else.
What if they choose to back down and adjust their model? Well, then they’re admitting that they’ve been cheap ass bastards all along. So, it’s lose-lose.
If Spotify is serious about their future as a big player in the music industry there’s only one thing they can do. Play the long game.
How do they do this? First they have to admit they were wrong and build up some goodwill from there. Trust isn’t built in a year or two, it’ll take a long time.
What they need to do is to act according to their values and have artists speak well of them. Beating your own chest and telling people what a great company you are does NOT work anymore. It’s all about the mavens/innovators moving your brand for you!
Big acts will always find new ways to get their music to the masses. The future of lesser known bands on Spotify depends on whether or not bigger acts stay on the platform. But even those bands will find other avenues if the bottom falls out. We could end up looking at another MySpace, and who wants that?
Full disclosure, I use Spotify, a LOT! Hell, i’m listening to “Change – Magical Night” as i’m typing this!
I love it, flaws and all. It’s in no way perfect and I really do hope they will take steps to make sure the content creators are compensated fairly.
It doesn’t matter what figures they throw out there in their defence, it’s not going to win the hearts and minds of the creators or the public. Only action will.
I believe that in some way Spotify could save the world of music by being the best company they can be.
Otherwise we’ll just have to ask the same question as so many times before: “Well, who’s next?”.
Thanks to Kid Belton for recommending the video below. I suggest you watch it, take notes, take action and repeat as necessary!
Ryan Leslie’s “Do It Yourself” approach: