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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Personal thoughts on Spotify, etc.

A few days ago, cellist and Twitter superstar Zoe Keating spoke out against Spotify. She has some good points. I do think that Spotify should pay equally to each record label and/or artist. But who's fault is it that they don't? The record labels have always flipped out over subscription services. They've systematically killed every one in the past: Rhapsody, Napster, Zune, etc. I'm sure Spotify didn't deliberately draw up different contracts with labels because they felt like it. The labels demanded it, and labels are still far bigger and more powerful than a young company that has yet to actually turn a profit (though it's on the brink), even if the industry is burning to the ground.

Spotify has the potential to save the ailing music industry. People stop pirating when they use it. Perhaps some artists are railing against Spotify because the music industry is (was) a vampiric business model that has demanded blood from artists for decades, and it doesn't deserve to survive. Eh. No, most artists have misdirected their rage at Spotify because they don't feel they're being paid enough yet. Railing against Spotify, however, isn't going to help us. Telling people to stop using Spotify in 2011 is like telling consumers to stop collecting mp3s in 1999. We have to find a way to work within the new system. (Which! I would like to say I predicted years ago, and I wish I had blogged about it then because I would be hailed as a prophetess! Or something. Never mind, being a prophet-with-a-blog probably pays about as much as being a fledgling composer.)

One advantage of the Spotify model is fairness - a different kind of fairness to the one discussed by Zoe Keating. This is old hat, but I'm going to say it anyway. Once upon a time, we bought a CD without knowing whether or not it was worth listening to, played it once, and if it was terrible, we were stuck with a useless object that took up a little over a quarter of an inch in our CD racks. I still have CD's kicking around that I know I will never play again; I can't sell them, and I can't bring myself to throw them away, because I paid $10+ each for them. My mp3 collection is the same way, though at least it takes up less space and doesn't smell like my basement. In the subscription system, the artists that I love and play over and over and over again can potentially get more money than the artists I play once. Good god, if the music industry had been savvy enough to implement some kind of music subscription service in 1999, Trent Reznor, Robert Smith and Kraftwerk could probably buy themselves a new yacht and call it Melissa.

But, of course, the recording industry hasn't been savvy. Everyone saw this coming but them - even I, a tiny little cog that isn't even properly connected to the machine. If they had bothered to think about the future rather than masturbating over the piles of cash they were raking in, they might have invested that money in development, launched a subscription service similar to Spotify shortly after the mp3 was invented, and maintained their own value in consumer culture. Instead, they fought tooth and nail against digital distribution, wasted money on DRM, and tried as hard as they could to turn people away from digital media altogether. Analogy: the tide is slowly coming in. You live close to the water's edge. Do you (a) dig a canal that directs the water around your home and perhaps find a way to make the ocean work for you, or (b) stand on the beach with a bucket, pumping your fists and yelling, "Go away!"?

Alternatively, they were the moronic and shortsighted grasshopper in the fable by Aesop, and now they want us to feel sorry for them. I find record labels only slightly less stupid than book publishers who are now teetering on the brink of failure (HOW CAN YOU BE THAT DUMB. The internet began as a TEXT-BASED MEDIUM. Delivery of electronic text files has been available since the beginning. Why did you not think about creating subscription services for books earlier? You sat watching the cracks in the music and film industries grow, and you did nothing. Nothing. And now you're crying over Google Books, and hoping that charging fifteen fucking dollars for an e-book will save the market for physical books? Burn, baby, burn.)

If the industry had thought about this earlier, Spotify or something like it would be ubiquitous today, and the revenue raised from advertising (for the company) and streaming (for the artists/labels) would sustain the industry and hopefully artists. Now we are stuck with a service in its embryonic stages and millions of people with vast mp3 collections that they probably got for free. Perhaps Spotify will grow into something that can support artists. Apparently it's already starting to do that in Sweden, where the service first began and has existed for much longer (translated article). But I have no pity for you, music industry. I have pity for the artists who will suffer in the meantime because of your shortsightedness and incompetence.

Oh, and I have pity for all all the artists you have ripped off over the years. Pass the marshmallows.

*sigh* This was a really impulsive blog entry, and I'll probably get flamed, but I'm just going to hit PUBLISH POST because I need to run to Sam Ash. Up Your Cherry is playing tomorrow night and I need a power supply.
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