Swift too slow to stop future of music industry

Swift too slow to stop future of music industry (credit: Maegha Singh/) Swift too slow to stop future of music industry (credit: Maegha Singh/)

Last week, pop superstar Taylor Swift pulled her entire catalogue of music, including her fifth studio album 1989, from the popular music streaming platform Spotify. By doing so, Swift moved to the center of an ongoing debate about the monetization of artists and the future of the music industry.

Swift is arguably one of the most powerful women in music today. 1989 is the first album to hit 1 million sales in the United States this year, selling more in its first week of sales than any album since 2002 and automatically going platinum. Simply put, Swift’s opinions on the music industry have a lot of clout, and she has taken a stand against streaming services like Spotify. In a statement to Yahoo, Swift said, “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.” But does Spotify really undercompensate industry creators? Spotify offers free streaming funded by ads along with a paid subscription service without ads, and boasts 50 million active users worldwide, 12.5 million of whom are paid subscribers.

It is undoubtably the largest music streaming platform, and growing. While Spotify dedicates 70 percent of its revenue — last year almost $1 billion — to rights holders, a large chunk of that is divvied off to record labels with artists themselves only seeing a fraction of a penny for each song play. This amount is significantly less than artists’ revenue from album sales, radio, and paid subscription streaming services. Scott Borchetta, the CEO of Swift’s record label Big Machine Records, told Time magazine that, “Over the last year, what Spotify has paid is the equivalent of less than 50,000 albums sold.”

For a powerhouse like Swift, taking leave from Spotify is more a protest than a business move. Swift’s paycheck will hardly be the worse for wear, but she is the exception. The same cannot be said for the smaller artists who make up the bulk of the music industry and are inadequately compensated by Spotify’s meager pay rate.

Swift has said she is against “perpetuating the perception that music has no value and should be free.” Despite the validity of that statement, it’s also more than a bit naive. The music industry has been “declining” for years, not in the sense that people have stopped loving music but that they’ve stopped loving to pay for it. The floodgates of streaming have been thrown open for good, and not even the most powerful artist in the industry will be able to close them again.

In a world where artists shouldn’t devalue their art by giving it away, and consumers won’t pay for what’s available for free, the solution to the debate won’t be found under the traditional model. Creators and consumers need to think outside the box to find a solution that benefits them both. They need to work with the evolving music industry and stop trying to control an unstoppable force.