Taylor Swift pulls her catalogue from Spotify

As her new album (1989) looks like it will rocket past 1m sales in its opening week in the US, Taylor Swift has pulled her entire catalogue from Spotify. This is not, as has been the case with her previous albums, a windowing exercise (like other partial holdouts such as Adele and Coldplay) with a long-term view to going onto streaming services when every potential sale has been wrung out of CDs and downloads.Her music has gone.Spotify has reacted in a somewhat twee manner by making a post-ironic SAD FACE playlist, called “Come back, Taylor!”, that uses the song titles of artists still on the service to spell out the fact that she will be missed. They back up her popularity on the service in less cloying terms by pointing out that 16m of their 40m users have played Swift’s music in the past month and her tracks appear on 19m playlists.”We hope she’ll change her mind and join us in building a new music economy that works for everyone,” runs the official Spotify statement.

It is arguable that windowing was an experiment by Swift and she (and her team) looked at the data and decided to call it a day – but at least gave it a go, meaning their decision was an informed one.

Music Ally has looked at plays of Swift’s last album, Red, on Spotify – itself windowed for a while. Collectively all tracks on that album were played over 264m times since they have been live on Spotify. Those are pretty good numbers; but compare that to, for example,  tracks from Ed Sheeran’s X album – which have been played well over 500m times – and this might be a factor in Swift and Big Machine’s decision. Maybe they don’t think, in the grand scheme of things, it’s worth it to be on Spotify – or any streaming service. Or, and here’s another argument, unless you are prepared to promote on Spotify, as Sheeran has done and Swift hasn’t, just as you would on iTunes or (in the old days) the high street record stores, then you are not going to – at the top end – see impressive results.

Swift is far from the only artist that has had a difficult relationship with Spotify in particular and streaming in general. Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan were on Spotify, then pulled their catalogues but then returned. Others like the Eagles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Metallica took their time to license, but some of them did so on exclusive terms (with at least one of them believed to have negotiated an equity stake in Spotify in exchange for letting their music go on there). We wonder if Swift and her team had considered or investigated something like this but still came to the conclusion to go. Or, and this is one for the conspiracy theorists, they asked for this but were turned down.

Amid the inevitable “never, ever getting back together” punning headlines, there will be a revisiting of the old Thom Yorke spat from last year (and his nose-pinching “last desperate fart of a dying corpse” quote). Here is the biggest pop star in the world saying that she gave streaming a go and decided that it wasn’t for her. Yorke might have made the most noise here about how he opposed the model but, frankly, his solo albums fly, unlistened and unheeded, over the heads of the mainstream consumer. Yet Swift is at the absolute beating heart of the mainstream – that same mainstream that Spotify must court if it is to reach the sort of scale that means its numbers start to properly add up.

Losing Thom Yorke from Spotify was not, if we’re honest, a big blow to the service. Losing Taylor Swift, however, looks like a serious set back just at the time when it looked like it finally had everything moving in the same direction.

Written by: Eamonn Forde