Why Spotify is the best, and the worst.

Posted by: admin on May 3, 2012 @ 4:29 pm
Filed under: Listening, Music Technology

Spotify raises some serious issues for artists and independent labels these days. Jim Tuerk, who works with us here at Greenleaf Music, has done a lot of thinking (and a lot of listening) around Spotify and other music services. He wrote some of his thoughts down recently and I believe Greenleaf followers will find them interesting and thought-provoking. Enjoy. —Dave Douglas

I’ve been streaming music on Spotify like it’s going out of style these past few months. The free version was just alright, but as with many in the digital music generation, I hate ads. And as you might guess, I have a pretty expansive iTunes library, so it wasn’t a priority to get in deeper with a paid account——paid accounts remove ads and allow you streaming capabilities on your phone. When I did take the plunge into the paid application, it was mostly so I could stay current with new releases in the indie rock world——something I doze off on sometimes only to be met with, “You haven’t heard _____?!” from one of my friends. And I have to say I am pretty hooked now.

A friend of mine recently equated Spotify to giving pirates the key to the booty, meaning that there really isn’t any reason to pirate a song or record if you can stream it for free online. And I’ve found that to be true. Sometimes, I just want to hear the record before I buy it whether that means scouring YouTube for tracks, or searching out other methods of downloading. What inevitably happens is one of two things: 1) I like the record, and buy the vinyl or digital, or 2) I don’t like it, and delete it from my memory (and my computer if it’s there). With Spotify, I rarely have to search illegal avenues and now have a list a mile long of records I have discovered and now need to buy. And that list grows exponentially due to the social piece of Spotify——which in my mind is the nail-head they hit spot on.

Example: A friend sends me a track on Spotify messenger by a band called White Denim. I dig it, check out their catalog further, fall into fan-dom, see a show, buy all the vinyl they have on the merch table, and go home happy to have supported the band directly with an empty wallet and an arm full of music.

But are there more people like me out there? I assume there are, but in far less numbers than the people who simply pay their $10 and stream all they want without a second thought to buy a CD/LP/download or see a show. For me, there’s something about not owning a piece of music I like that rubs me the wrong way. Call me old-school. Maybe it’s because I’m a musician and want to feel I’ve supported folks like me. But more simply, I think it’s that I can’t quite go all-in on consumption without ownership.

One of my favorite singers, David Lowery, is a smart dude. He wrote this expansive article on the current music business model vs. the old model a couple weeks ago. It’s a helluva read. He writes: “’The consumer wants music to be free!’ [the Digerati] shout as they pound their tiny fists on their Skovby tables. The consumer also wants cars to be free. And beer. Especially beer. But any market involves a buyer and a seller. A consumer and a producer.” And furthermore, that some equate, “the unauthorized use of other people’s property (artist’s songs) with freedom,” but “…when it comes to their intellectual property, software patents for instance, these same companies fight tooth and nail.”

(Note: There is so much more to quote from over there. You should read the full article.)

Spotify hasn’t been forthcoming with their payment structure as of yet (Digital Music News is a good resource for that). While their model allows for a company to join up or pull their content, the “freedom” for consumers at the expense of artist revenues is why a lot of labels are pulling their catalogs from there (one of my favorite labels, Drag City, being one of them). But labels can lose a lot by not servicing Spotify——specifically the aforementioned social aspects of the software. It’s a great tool for artists to get their music out there to the people like me, but none of that matters if people use Spotify as a one-stop for all their music consumption. It really only works for artists if those engaged fans are somehow converted into paying consumers——meaning they don’t just pay Spotify, but rather support the artist directly. Think about the example above: I bought their albums, went to a show, and still listen to them on Spotify. But if I were just listening to them over and over again on Spotify without buying, who’s winning besides me and Spotify?

If you’re here reading this post you probably have checked out some of Greenleaf’s music and gone farther than a cursory Spotify relationship. For us at GLM, pulling our music from Spotify isn’t something we want to do. One alternative we’ve created is the Subscription with streaming and downloadable music not available at Spotify (or iTunes or Amazon or anywhere else). We definitely hope you’ll want to hear this music and join up at one of these plans. For us it’s about having a mechanism in place that helps convert those who find music on Spotify or elsewhere into a more direct relationship with our artists. We’re working with Spotify as just another tool to generate interest in the music, whether it’s live shows, CDs, streams, sheet music, or any creative output coming from artists we believe in.

My larger point in all this is that we all need to be thoughtful about how our consumption patterns affect those who are making the content we’re consuming. Paying your $10 to an aggregator like Spotify every month doesn’t get you off the hook. Get out there and see a show, buy an album or even just a song if you like it. Don’t just sit there thinking, “Man, Spotify rules! I never have to pay for an album again!” because you’ll be left one day without a WiFi connection and a deafening silence that could have been cured for a couple extra bucks——money that will help keep your favorite band alive and kicking one more year.


  1. I am a Spotify user and love it. I am also a DJ on the local Telluride CO community radio station KOTO-fm. After I complete my radio show I log my playlist into a service call Spinitron which is used to report songs played over the radio so that all appropriate royalties can be paid the the artists, song writers, etc.

    To me, Spotify is like radio on demand and just like radio should be required to pay royalties to the artists, etc. whenever a song is played. If this is not the case — then there is something very wrong with the current system and Spotify is getting an unfair advantage.

    Comment by Jim Berkowitz — May 3, 2012 @ 5:29 pm

  2. Thanks for the thoughts, Jim.

    From what I’ve read, Spotify is paying out labels at something like $0.003 per track stream. What that means is that if someone listens to your 10-track album every day for a full year, you get about $10.

    But again, hard to know since a lot of the numbers aren’t being disclosed.

    Comment by Jim Tuerk — May 3, 2012 @ 6:01 pm

  3. Great Article!!! this subject needs to be talked about more.

    To me it’s difficult to justify the use of spotify just because there are music fans like us who would use it as a research tool and then actually get the music (full disclosure: I did use spotify for a few weeks and then stopped). This is because people like us will always find ways to get to the music we like, I did it when I was a kid and there was no music online and I can still do it now.

    A lot of other people just don’t listen to as much music at all. I have many friends in different countries who are not musicians or music aficionados and if you go to their houses they’ll have maybe 10 records?? if that. I believe there’s a LOT of people like this, so when you have a service like spotify in place it removes the need of ever buying music at all from millions of people. Some people work on their computers all day long and it’s absolutely worth it to them to pay the 10$ a month to listen to a bunch of stuff and zone out on it, also people with iPhones, I mean EVERYONE has an iPhone. Also a lot of people just don’t care about the adds cause they aren’t listening for long periods of time. Some people will listen to maybe 4 tracks and carry on with their day, listening to an add is just not that big of a deal for them.

    For people that actually listen and care for the music the question is if we really need something like this. Because I have over 5000 records in my iTunes library and I am very very slowly getting to them, there are plenty of things there that I haven’t listened to in depth, and I listen to music EVERY day, to me is more important to really get into the nuances of the records I do like more than just having a large volume of music, which I do anyway. Also if the point is to research things before you buy them, you can go to artists websites, or websites like bandcamp, youtube, artist facebook pages, myspace, blogs such as this, etc… I mean, let’s be honest, without spotify there’s already a STAGERING amount of music online that you can listen to for free, there’s no way you could get to listen to all of it even within a lifetime.

    I guess my question is, do we REALLY, ABSOLUTELY, NEED to have access to EVERYTHING?? is having EVERYTHING being available easily that great of a thing??

    Also, let us not forget that there’s still a TON of older music of incredible importance and relevance that has remained obscure despite all this internet nonsense. I think it would be good that fellows who are into music take the time to investigate some of this stuff as an alternative to getting EVERY new thing that comes out.

    We live in strange times, cause being a musician you really have to question if it’s really worth it to make a record anymore. The only real reason to do it is if you want to properly document some music that’s really worth documenting (which in itself could be an interesting filter of a lot of things that just aren’t that great). But the financial aspect is just MAYBE worth it if you have some sort of consistent touring schedule in which you could sell records, or maybe if you have gained enough recognition within your scene or field (word of mouth basically). But some more stablished independent artists know that getting to that point takes time, I know plenty of outstanding musicians who don’t get to this point well into their 40’s. Throughout history artists have excelled at thriving under adverse contexts and I think they will continue to do so, just because I think art is bigger than these things anyway. But I often wonder if these technologies keep developing what are some of the talented people who are in their teens gonna have to do to make a living in 10 years from now?

    My two cents

    Comment by Juanma Trujillo — May 3, 2012 @ 11:38 pm

  4. If only everyone was like Jim and bought records/went to shows after discovering a musician on spotify. Unfortunately, I don’t think many people do that, even if they want to. Spotify and the digital age make it too easy to get anything instantly. We say, “I’ll get around to buying it” but we never do because the free version is always right there. And who has time for shopping now? We’re all too busy checking our email.
    I witnessed one interesting approach lately. I had been checking out Tim Berne’s Snakeoil on ECM on spotify and then suddenly it was gone. I assume ECM took it down. I still wanted to listen, so I downloaded it from iTunes. This could work.
    If it’s going to work any other way, I think the public has to be convinced that artists and labels need to be justly compensated for plays, and be willing to pay for them. And then they need to demand that spotify pay the artists and labels appropriately. Unfortunately this sounds like a stretch at this time.

    Comment by Jesse Stacken — May 5, 2012 @ 4:37 am

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