Friedrich Nietzsche said that “without music, life would be a mistake.” Music is a part of our culture. Wedding receptions, high school proms, and college parties—music is present at all of them.
Music is becoming easier to listen to. iPods and MP3 players have made larger amounts of music portable. iTunes has made finding songs easier—at a price, of course—and apps like Shazam have made it possible to look up the names of songs that we have just heard.
Most recently, the music industry is changing yet again, as companies like Spotify are altering the landscape for music listeners and artists alike. Spotify allows users to access a huge library of songs for free, listen to free radio, and make playlists, all with minimal commercial interruption.
Much of the media attention that Spotify has received is negative, but not all of it is deserved. Spotify’s critics have overlooked its benefits and exaggerated its faults.
It is true that Spotify pays artists a pittance. This, in and of itself, may be reason enough for some critics to decide that Spotify is the blight of the music industry. However, this is not the only factor in play when we consider Spotify’s presence in the music industry.
We must not forget that artists do have a choice when it comes to sharing their music on Spotify. Spotify does not steal their music from them. An artist’s record label negotiates and then enters into a contract with Spotify. So before we talk about issues of fairness, let’s remember that the artists who put their music on Spotify have agency in doing so.
If anyone is to blame for unfairness, it would be the record labels. Major labels like Universal that generally represent well-known artists have more leverage in contract negotiations with Spotify than smaller independent labels that usually represent lesser-known artists. Thus, the major record labels generally arrive at more lucrative contracts for their clients.
While this may seem unfair, consider that many lesser-known artists have more of a chance of being listened to on Spotify than they would have otherwise. Spotify is designed to provide listeners with a diversity of listening options, and it is a tool to help discover new and lesser-known artists. In this way, Spotify is an excellent marketing technique for smaller artists. It allows them to become more well-known than they might otherwise become while giving them a small profit. Although the artists don’t make much using Spotify, the company itself actually lost a total of $60 million in 2011.
CDs were not highly profitable for artists when they first came out either, but eventually they were successful. Spotify is a nascent business model. It is too young to judge, and it’s too soon to tell what kind of influence it is going to have on the music industry in the long run.
Many music listeners may not yet be consistent and committed Spotify users, because Spotify is relatively new. The more users Spotify gains over time, the more money artists will start to make. In an interview with the New York Times, music lawyer Donald Passman said, “Artists didn’t make big money from CDs when they were introduced, either. They were a specialty thing, and had a lower royalty rate. Then, as it became mainstream, the royalties went up. And that’s what will happen here.”
Spotify is not yet mainstream enough to be highly profitable, but once it gets there it may actually become a preferred source of profits for artists.
So the next time you make yourself a playlist on Spotify, there’s no need to feel guilty. Spotify is great for consumers, and in the long run it will probably be good for artists too. It’s also a good thing for music-listening in general because it increases the amount of music being listened to, period. In this way, it makes music even more a part of our lives. In fact, Spotify was attributed with raising music sales in Sweden by 30.1 percent in the first half of 2012.
It is simply too soon to decide that Spotify is a bad thing for the music industry. For now, keep enjoying your free and instant access to Spotify’s library. If you haven’t used Spotify yet, give it a try. The more we listen, the more profit artists make. At this point, boycotting Spotify will just hurt artists more. We might as well use this tool for music discovery as much as we can.