Taylor Swift, Aloe Blacc and Music Streaming
What’s with pop stars these days? It’s as if they don’t appreciate steaming services giving their music away for free! Taylor Swift’s July editorial in the Wall Street Journal might have been easy for snarky pop media to denigrate, but the singer made some cogent points about the future of the music industry. Her experience as a multi-millionaire superstar was used against her, but it actually makes her someone whose opinions need to be considered.
The release of her new album 1989, which was the fastest selling record in its first week since The Eminem Show in 2002, turned more than a few heads in the record industry. Besides putting her in a new pantheon of record-setting musical acts, she demonstrated that pulling music from all free streaming services (Spotify wouldn’t limit her music to paid customers, and subsequently lost her entire catalogue), she could exceed all reasonable album sale expectations.
So the question is, now more than ever, is streaming hurting artists and the music industry at large?
This month, Aloe Blacc joined Swift in an editorial in Wired. The pop star explains that the value of his work as a songwriter and performer is simply too low. And he has numbers to back up the claim.
Blacc wrote Avicii’s 2013 hit single ‘Wake Me Up!’ (on which he also sings). The 13th most streamed song in Pandora’s history, 168,000,000 plays earned $12,359 total. That sum was divided between songwriters and their publishers. The track was the most streamed song in Spotify history, and yielded similarly low earnings.
“If that’s what’s now considered a streaming ‘success story,’ is it any wonder that so many songwriters are now struggling to make ends meet?”
My question is how could a new artist, or more niche artist, ever make a living in this landscape? Music has value, but the closed marketplace of music cum tech is driving the value to artificial lows. On the surface, that’s good for consumers – we get access to more music for less money.
The effects on music, however, could be disastrous. What if streaming is a diversity killer? What if it prevents real talent from ever attempting a career, lowering the standard of quality (even further)? Could the industry stand an even larger barrier to entry into even moderate success? Songwriters must be able to afford to make great music. And music fans must realize this.
How we’re going to make anything change, that I have no idea.