In my lifetime, I have gotten to see an extremely rapid music evolution. First were the CDs (that I remember), but it really did not take long for the mp3 player to take hold with the rise of the iPod and other products, and pretty soon most people owned all of their new music on a digital library like iTunes. In a turn of events that I think few predicted, owning music has even become obsolete (of course there is also the return of vinyl, but that’s just for the nostalgia factor). Now, most people pay a monthly subscription fee of about $10 for unlimited access to music, and I think that that’s a victory for the consumer. The most popular services are Spotify and Apple Music. If you listen to music as much as I do, this is far more cost effective than buying your music. However, we are left to consider how this has affected the providers of the content, the artists.
The past few years have seen Taylor Swift explode with popularity, mostly because she continues to defy expectations with each new album. She has arguably one of the biggest fanbases in the world, and as such she has tremendous influence. Her stance on streaming services has been complicated. It started in 2014 when she published an essay in the Wall Street Journal displaying her feelings on music ownership. In her words, “Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for. It’s my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album’s price point is.” She managed to make an issue out of something that is a non-issue for her, and then made a critically wrong prediction about the future.
Then, she pulled all of her music off of Spotify, which she justified by saying that streaming services are not the future. “[A]ll I can say is that 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. 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… I thought, ‘I will try this; I’ll see how it feels.’ It didn’t feel right to me.”, she said in a statement. This is understandable and more justifiable, because she does mention the fact that Spotify offers music for free to users who listen to ads. It seems that her stance is completely anti-streaming , probably because she has built her living off of selling music and it feels non-traditional to do away with ownership. However, Swift has to accept the reality that this is the way that things are going to be now, and that Spotify and Apple Music are not just a “phase” for teenage America.
However, amongst all of this talk she did manage to make a difference at some point. Apple Music announced in June 2015 that they would not be paying artists royalties for songs that were listened to during a three month free trial period. To this, Swift reacted that she was shocked that such a profitable tech company would refuse to pay these royalties when it was clearly economically feasible. They finally agreed to heed her recommendations, a victory for smaller acts that needed those royalties to get out of debt.
Finally in June 2017 Taylor released all of her music to all streaming services, surrendering to the direction that the industry is going. However, after the release of her last album Reputation, she still held out for a few weeks before allowing it to be released on Spotify, just to emphasize the fact that she could pull everything at any time (in my opinion). After this incident, we should be aware that we are at the mercy of these streaming services and the artists as well.