Spotify Is The Enemy and Other Music Myths

Posted: March 25, 2013 in Advice, Bands
Tags: , , , , , ,

I’m surrounded by musicians all day, every day. I see their struggles, I know their work habits, I understand their passions and beliefs. And we really need to clear some things up…

It’s not easy surviving as a musician. It never has been, it never will be. Most musicians have been told this their whole lives, but instead of accepting that it’s inherent in the career, they tend to look outside the lifestyle and toward those that listen to, sell, or provide services for music and musicians.

1. Record Labels Are Evil, Greedy Bastards

This is the most commonly spouted belief, and it makes sense why. The labels take a massive percentage of sales, leaving you with little. Not only that, but they have screwed over thousands of hopeful artists!

The Realistic View:

Record labels (generally) aren’t non-profit organizations. They need money to stay afloat. To make money, they need highly marketable artists with huge sales profits. Unfortunately, most of the artists they pick up are NOT cash cows, so the ones who are end up making up for the less successful investments.

Reevaluate:

Think of it as a loan. The record label gives you money to make a record, go on tour, etc. which YOU have to earn back. They aren’t there to hand you free money. You’re an investment. Remember that.

2. Pirating Caused The Industry To Collapse (and must be stopped)

That damn Napster had to start the whole file sharing craze and cause no one to ever want to pay for music again. Anyone who downloads music illegally should be fined thousands of dollars to stand as an example to the others.

Slowpoke: enemy of musicians everywhere

The Realistic View:

This is a huge, tangled ball of finger-pointing, advancing technology, human nature, and old-fashioned beliefs that is really impossible to fully evaluate in a short, 4-point blog post. Pirating isn’t the insanely horrible act that (most) everyone in the industry makes it out to be.

I understand that it seems to have led to a steep decline in CD sales (although, for the record, that is highly debated and there are many other reasons that contributed to the decline,) but the fact of the matter is it comes with the territory. People want accessibility. That’s obvious by how technology is always moving toward ease of use, instant connection with anyone all over the world, and access to information. Facebook, Google, Spotify, they all have different services, but they provide one thing that people want – access.

Reevaluate:

Use (most) people’s natural inclination to pirate (because it’s easier) to your advantage. Find ways to extract valuable information, such as an email address, whenever someone downloads your song (on your site, for free) or make it easy to pay for your music. Downloads for donations are a great way to do this. As Amanda Palmer recently brought to media attention, it’s better to “let” fans pay you than to ask them to pay you. Spotify is another great example, because all it takes is one time to sign up and there are millions of songs at the user’s fingertips. Speaking of Spotify…

3. Spotify (or Pandora, iTunes, etc…) Is The Enemy

A newer cliche, this rant came about when the Internet started to find ways to monetize the digital music revolution. Similar to the record label argument, it claims that Internet streaming and MP3 download companies hog all the profits and only pay artists a pittance for their work. You may see where this is going…

The Realistic View:

Spotify is NOT a bottomless pit of money. In fact, right now they are struggling to find a way to turn a profit and stay afloat (although the situation is constantly improving. Perhaps more on that later.) If we focus on Spotify, we can look at how insanely difficult it is to get labels (and their repertoire) on board for a “fair” royalty rate, which leads to a struggle to get advertisement revenue, which means a smaller amount of money to pay labels, which leads to fewer songs…it’s a pretty vicious cycle.

Another thing to keep in mind is that, each play may earn a VERY small amount of money, but artists do get paid for EACH PLAY. If your songs merit many listens, eventually it will add up.

Reevaluate:

The vicious cycle I brought up earlier can easily be reversed. It just takes a little bit of faith and cooperation from labels. If labels trust Spotify and their ability to attract users and advertisement, then Spotify will have a larger collection to work with, which will lead to more people being interested in the service, which will lead to more advertising revenue (and paid subscribers,) which will lead to more label confidence, more songs, more listeners, etc. It can be reversed, and I believe we’re slowly coming around to the right track.

You, the artist, need to focus on using Spotify as a fantastic marketing tool, and get those listens up as much as possible. Do you put your music on Bandcamp or Soundcloud? Spotify is free for possible fans, and it will automatically pay you. Bandcamp and Soundcloud won’t. There is a small fee for getting your songs up there, but with a big enough fan base, it can easily be worth it.

4. I Create Music, I Deserve Compensation

Musicians say that they should be paid because they make music. They spent time and creative energy to put out a piece of work and now they deserve their reward, dammit! People don’t steal coffee right? Why is it ok to steal music?

Let’s really think about this for a minute

The Realistic View:

That statement is unrealistic. Yes, you put time and effort into your music. Yes, it’s shitty when you don’t get paid for all of that effort. But listen, it’s not about how much work you put in – It’s about supply and demand. If people don’t feel that your music is worth paying for, sorry, it’s not. As for the coffee thing…coffee is a tangible object, it is far more difficult to steal a cup of coffee from Starbucks than it is to download a file. It’s apples and oranges really.

Reevaluate:

Again, it’s all supply and demand. Give the fans a reason to pay you for your time – use human nature to your advantage. After the very base needs and safety, humans crave love and belonging. They want to feel like they are part of something and it’s your job to inspire those feelings. Music, at it’s core, isn’t a product for a base need like food or shelter. It is there because we need more than that. It elicits feelings of every kind – joy, sorrow, anger, frustration, understanding, remorse – and YOU are the ones that create it. The fans want you to know how your songs make them feel…but more importantly, they want you to live up to those feelings. To understand them like the songs do.

Make them feel understood and they will give you their last dollar without question.


Musicians do wonderful  and inspiring work. Music has led me through every chapter of my life and will be with me until the day I die. But the fact that you are part of that mystical community that creates art, doesn’t mean that you are exempt from the economy. There is a business behind music and, as much as it may pain your artistic nature, you’re going to have to deal with it if you want to make this your life’s work. Otherwise, maybe it’s better as a hobby.

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Comments
  1. “People don’t steal coffee right? Why is it ok to steal music?”

    As you point out stealing a physical item has some shared and some different implications when contrasted with downloading something illegally. There are morals at play here and laws as well.

    The cost of replacing a stolen digital item is free. I feel that this is partially how people that download illegally can subconsciously justify the behavior even if they wouldn’t steal the cheap plastic Ray-Ban knockoffs at the gas station.

    The cost of replacing the physical good (let’s keep this discussion on topic and stick with a CD sold by the artist rather than a cup of coffee) is higher because it is not as simple as duplicating a file.

    Let’s face it, there is also the fear of getting caught that stops many people from stealing physical items. Imagine if everyone knew there was no chance of getting caught from stealing items in real life. The fact that it is immoral behavior would cause many to refrain but with an absence of any law enforcement it’s clear that some new people would begin stealing physical items.

    It’s also become quite clear that the “ownership” of a “purchased” digital file is dubious at best. The court’s ruling against Redigi only goes to confirm that ownership of a digital file comes with many more exceptions and strings attached than a physical item.

    • musikleigh says:

      Couldn’t agree more. The problem with morals is that they are so subjective, and that is definitely exacerbated when, as you say, the “‘ownership’ of a ‘purchased’ digital file is dubious at best.” Often if people feel there is unfairness in the system…they will also feel they have the right to correct it.

      People are fascinating.

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