Taylor Swift broke her silence over the removal of her catalogue from Spotify yesterday, and it may be the most damaging criticism the company has faced yet from an artist.
“Music is changing so quickly, and the landscape of the music industry itself is changing so quickly, that everything new, like Spotify, all feels to me a bit like a grand experiment,” Swift told Yahoo Music.
“And I’m not willing to contribute my life’s work to an experiment that I don’t feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists, and creators of this music. And I just don’t agree with perpetuating the perception that music has no value and should be free.”
There was more: “I think it’s really still up for debate whether this is actual progress, or whether this is taking the word ‘music’ out of the music industry. Also, a lot of people were suggesting to me that I try putting new music on Spotify with Shake It Off and so I was open-minded about it. I thought, ‘I will try this; I’ll see how it feels’,” she said.
“It didn’t feel right to me. I felt like I was saying to my fans, ‘If you create music someday, if you create a painting someday, someone can just walk into a museum, take it off the wall, rip off a corner off it, and it’s theirs now and they don’t have to pay for it.’ I didn’t like the perception that it was putting forth. And so I decided to change the way I was doing things.”
Yes, Shake It Off is still available on YouTube – 239m views and counting – which might undercut the latter part of her argument a bit if it hadn’t been the opening salvo in a promotional campaign that delivered 1.3m first-week sales in the US alone.
But for an artist at her creative and commercial peak to be suggesting Spotify – or to be accurate, free on-demand streaming services – doesn’t fairly compensate creators is going to be harder to shake off (pun not intended) than, for example, Thom Yorke’s “last desperate fart of a dying corpse” jibe.
At this point, it feels like Spotify needs a new strategy: not just less playlist poetry (although: yes) but also moving on from its reliance on facts: 70% of its revenues are paid to rightsholders; labels and publishers pay artists, not Spotify; the more it scales, the more money it’ll pay and so on.
These are all true: they’re facts, after all. But facts are not cutting through in a debate that’s increasingly about emotions and gut feeling, as well as another fact: pressure is building on Spotify to bow to demands from Swift and some other big artists to window their new albums for its premium subscribers.
A change of policy there might get Swift’s back catalogue back on Spotify, but winning the hearts of artists as well as the minds of their business managers is one of the most important challenges for the company now.