Live and let stream: Spotify’s importance

Love it or hate it, streaming will continue to be the only way any money can be made off music.

Martha Pietruszewski

We shouldn’t toss out words like “revolutionize” and “game-changing” lightly, but Spotify has indeed revolutionized the online music world for artists and fans alike. But like all good things, Spotify comes at a cost.

I’m a huge fan of Spotify. I pay the student rate for a premium membership, and I can listen to (almost) whatever I want, wherever I want.

I don’t even remember the last time I paid for a $12.99 iTunes download or a physical CD. To please their fans, artists need to embrace the music industry’s shift to streaming.

However, Taylor Swift recently joined the ranks of artists like the Beatles, Thom Yorke and Beyoncé by opting to have some of her music stay off Spotify. Thom Yorke, frontman of Radiohead, has said that he doesn’t need Spotify as a gateway for his music — people will want to listen to it anyway.

Indie bands have a different take on Spotify. Some are concerned about not making as much money off streaming as popular, top-40 artists. I present to you the case of Vulfpeck.

Vulfpeck is an indie band that created a “silent” album for their fans to stream. It was called “Sleepify,” and each song of the 10-track album was only 30 seconds long. Vulfpeck used the revenue from that album’s streams to fund a tour for their fans — impressive, considering that Spotify only pays between .006 and .0084 cents per stream. This is a tiny amount, but the alternative to a fraction of a penny per stream is no money for pirated music.

While I am not endorsing the questionable ethics of this practice, Vulfpeck stuck it to Spotify and raised money on their own terms. Or at least they tried to. Spotify has since removed the album, saying they prefer Vulfpeck’s earlier works. Spotify may have figured out the scheme quickly, but Vulfpeck made a brilliant ploy that ended up getting the band increased attention.

Spotify tries to create a fair payment model by taking the artists’ royalty fee into account. And if its members pay the
premium, revenue from streams is even higher. Unfortunately, $.006 is sometimes pushing it for the popular streaming service. About 70 percent of revenue goes to paying royalties, barely leaving enough for Spotify to cover its costs.

The company realizes what it pays may not be enough to represent the musical value of the artists. But Spotify counters this by saying that the end goal of its services is for all people to enjoy the music in an easier way than ever before.

Basically, Spotify is better than nothing.

It seems greedy and unnecessary for big-name artists like Taylor Swift not to have their music on Spotify and other streaming services such as Rdio and 8tracks. If artists cared about the fans as much as they say they do, there’s no reason not to release their music to the masses. Coldplay understands both sides of the argument. They stagger the release of their albums on streaming services in order to encourage listeners to buy the whole album. Streaming services are the future of the music industry whether Taylor likes it or not. But for now, major players may not play anytime soon.