Spotify – love them, though they’re slippery

Motorway-Madness-labelSome of my own music is on Spotify – anyone can exhume recordings my old band Aardvark made for Tree Records in 1973.

We were never asked if we wanted to be on Spotify – not that I would have objected.

There must be legions of minor-league and once-big-time-but-now-passed-by artists in the same position. Does Spotify even attempt to contact their record companies? I suspect they just hoover stuff up and think about compensation if someone squeals.

This stuff is all copyright to the artists, providing the recordings were released after 1922 in the USA (or, in New Zealand and much of the rest of world), within 50 years of the death of the artist.

One reason I’m happy to overlook this hoovering is that Spotify gives me vast amounts of older music I might otherwise never hear again. Almost everything I look for is available. Sometimes I’ll hunt out albums and singles I once owned and enjoy a nostalgic listen. Or I’ll be reading a novel in which old-timers like Bill Monroe or Johnny Allen (Louisiana Man) are mentioned. Playing their music via Spotify adds reading ambience. One of my favourite detectives, Harry Bosch (in novels by Michael Connelly), is a jazz lover and Spotify even has a Bosch playlist. Albums-collage

Taylor Swift: told Spotify to piss off.

Some more recent (and more successful) artists are less enthusiastic about Spotify and claim they are being ripped off by a paper-thin royalty structure. Best-known is singer Taylor Swift, who this week told Spotify to remove her latest highly successful album – plus all her other recordings. She’s the current highest-profile hold-out, but a few other significant artists, including the Beatles, won’t have a bar of Spotify, even though it is rapidly becoming the dominant source for music consumption on the planet.

Some labels, such as Hyperion and ECM, won’t let Spotify play any of their recordings. But most labels play the streamers’ game.

Yesterday the boss of Spotify, Daniel Ek, published an answer to Ms Swift, a defence of his company and of the music streaming model generally. Pointing to the US$2 billion his company has paid out to artists since the service started in 2008, he emoted: “We started Spotify because we love music and piracy was killing it. So all the talk swirling around lately about how Spotify is making money on the backs of artists upsets me big time.”

This hand on heart stuff is interesting, given that Daniel Ek co-founded µTorrent, the BitTorrent client platform probably responsible for most illegal downloading of music and video today, outside China. µTorrent was sold to BitTorrent Inc in 2006.

I’d love to know how Spotify parceled out its $2 billion. Was it based on per-artist play statistics? How much, if anything, does Spotify pay to The Animals for plays of We Gotta Get Out of This Place, or to Herbie Hancock for Watermelon Man? To Percy Faith and his Orchestra for A Summer Place?

Daniel Ek, CEO of Spotify.

Say it quickly and Daniel Ek’s figure of two billion dollars sounds impressive – but it’s pretty meaningless when presented out of context. The figure covers a six year period. What was the global royalties cake in this period?

It would be interesting, if it were possible, to compare Spotify’s payouts to the royalties Apple paid in the years when iTunes was rampant. Or what record companies paid before iTunes or streaming music came along.

The difficulty in all this is making fair comparisons over time and among different mediums.

My gut feeling is that Spotify’s two billion dollars is not generous at all. But some beg to differ. Cnet has an interesting article on the subject here.

One thing is for certain: I won’t get a cent for my great opus Motorway Madness.

But I won’t be cancelling my Spotify subscription.

Yeah right

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This entry was posted in 50s music, Jazz, Music and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Spotify – love them, though they’re slippery

  1. Peter MacGibbon says:

    I don’t know how you could be thinking they might be slippery. an actionable comment I’m sure but you may be safe.

  2. Bill Bennett says:

    “One thing is for certain: I won’t get a cent for my great opus Motorway Madness.”

    It’s the same with my old stories turning up all over the place – often on sites owned by large media companies. In theory I’m due a copyright payment. I used to get this when I lived in Australia. There, the copyright society would follow every lead and squeeze money out of publishers. Typically I’d get a cheque once a year for A$2,000 to A$3,000. The best year I got almost A$4,000 taking inflation into account, it was a sizeable amount.

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