I have been a vocal hater of the “free” music service Spotify. The infinitesimal amount they paid for each song, to me, was a slap in the face to musicians everywhere. You can read my original rant on why I think Spotify is unfair, and the follow up where I recant slightly and recognize Spotify has some redeeming qualities.
Not that I ever expected it to go away, but far too many people love the service, including musicians. So I give up.
Before I get on to why I now hate Spotify slightly less, let me reiterate why I still think it’s mostly bonkers awful.
My friend Phil is in the band Just Off Turner. I highly recommended you check them out. He shared with me the band’s singles and albums sales data. He asked me not to give specific dollar amounts, but percentages tell the story just the same.
Over the period of time he showed me, Just Off Turner sold just shy of 9,000 tracks on iTunes. In the same span of time, they streamed 5,000 tracks on Spotify. The Spotify income was 0.2% of the iTunes income. Zero. Point. Two. Percent. Think about that for a second. That means that just over half as many people who bought a song on iTunes enjoyed JOT’s music on Spotify, yet JOT got paid a meaningless fraction of the amount they would have gotten had those people bought the song.
OK, now I know this isn’t a perfect comparison. How many people who streamed wouldn’t have bought a track anyway? Or more optimistically, how many people who did stream, also bought a track?
But look at it this way: If just 1% of the people that streamed JOT’s music bought a song (just one song), JOT would have made more than they did from all the streams combined. Even if you look at Spotify as advertising, it’s a pretty hard sell from a monetary standpoint.
The fact is, recording music takes time and money, and when you pay for the results of that effort you're rewarding someone for entertaining you. If you don’t think it’s worth paying someone for their creativity, well, you’re entitled to your opinion. Just know that you’re wrong and I hate you.
To be fair, the Radio feature has been a part of Spotify for a while. It was pretty well buried, though, enough so that most users (myself included) had no idea it was there. Radio acts like Pandora, where you create a “station” that features an artist or song you like, then Spotify finds and plays similar music.
With their latest mobile update, Spotify is taking aim at Pandora (and the like) directly. The Radio feature is given some prominence, and there’s even a marketing push behind it. Compared to Pandora’s paltry hundreds of thousands of songs, Spotify’s library of millions of songs is huge. Pandora spins this by saying their service is better “quality,” giving listeners a better selection of what they want. Maybe, maybe not. So I figured I’d give Spotify’s Radio feature a spin (a re-spin, technically). It’s worth noting here that the mobile Radio feature is only available to paying subscribers, and only on Apple devices. The Android app still lacks Radio.
As much as I’m a fan of Pandora, it doesn’t take too long before I start hearing the same songs a lot. If I listen while I’m working, it’s usually only a few days before I get sick of the limited selection. Spotify’s much larger music library should minimize this. In theory.
One of the easiest tests of a streaming radio service, I've found, is selecting Emmylou Harris. I adore Harris, and would listen to her sing a phone book. In theory, a radio station based around Emmylou should also get me artists like Gram Parsons, Gillian Welch, Alison Krauss, maybe Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash. All of this is great.
It does not, however, mean I want to hear Taylor Swift or any of that overproduced modern “country” crap. I’d rather impale myself on a banjo than listen to that alien bobble head sing flat and whiny to faux-country songs. Pandora inflicts this aural assault upon me with irritating regularity.
Spotify is surprisingly not much better than Pandora, despite the larger library. In terms of artist variety, I got some expected picks (Roxanne Cash, Lucinda Williams, the artists I mentioned earlier), and some unexpected, like Robert Plant (no doubt from his ties with Alison Krauss).
However, the song selection was far more repetitive than I expected. Arguably, it was worse than Pandora. There were even some oddities in the mix (Kate Bush? Ugh...).
That said, where Spotify does redeem itself somewhat is that you can fast forward as much as you want, and even though I’d hear a too-familiar song a little too regularly, a few clicks of the forward button and I’d hear something new.
My question is, do the artists I only heard a few seconds of get paid as if I listened to the whole song? That would be awesome if they did.
When it comes down to it, I’m my favorite DJ. My tastes are too eclectic to listen to one genre or artist-themed flavor for too long. My hatred of Spotify is largely unabated, but I know I’m in the minority. My biggest complaint has been that by letting people hear “any” album or song they wanted, when they wanted, they are taking money out of the hands of musicians, who instead of getting a few dollars for an album, would get fractions of a penny. That hasn’t changed. At least the Radio feature, now that it’s getting some prominence, has the potential to introduce people to new artists.
Will Spotify cannibalize song sales? I’d have to assume yes, and I plan to follow up with Just Of Turner in a few months to see if there’s been any fall off. I hope I’m wrong.
Brent Butterworth and Geoff Morrison combine their years of gear testing and knowledge in one überblog of irreverence and techiness.
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