Netiquette: the economics of Spotify

Adam Disney isn’t convinced that all music should be free

Q: I want to use Spotify but Thom Yorke told me not to, how do I function?

Mahmoud McDowell 

(Arts/Science III)


A:  A fine question Mamster, and ably stated! For those readers with better things to do than peruse music blogs, the latest online hubbub concerns recent statements by certain musicians, including frontman/interpretive dancer Thom Yorke, that they would be withdrawing their music from the online streaming service Spotify due to the insultingly low rates paid to musicians. While the standard dickheads were quick to comment that Yorke is already rich/is a whinger/should get a real job, and that the protest would achieve nothing, the crux of Yorke and friends’ argument, as revealed via Twitter, was that the service only really benefited established acts with large back catalogues while for new bands (ie not Thom Yorke) the rates were prohibitively low.

But Thom Yorke is foreign and funny looking and totes skinny, so we should ignore him right? Yes M-Unit, it’s a tempting proposition, but here I would urge caution. If you check the numbers, as musicians such as Damon Krukowski (Galaxie 500 etc) have eloquently done, the standard rates per stream are low enough (AUS$0.005-ish) that you can get a million odd plays and still score a measly few thousand bucks. Aspiring musicians – think about how hard it is to get one person to listen to your song once. Now scale it up to a million. Even if you convinced a thousand people, they would still need to listen to your song a thousand times each to earn you enough for an ‘89 Camry with a fucked muffler.

True, Mammy, Spotify is a splendid service and yes, these longhairs should be thankful for table scraps in the year of the torrent, but before you go streaming Huey Lewis like a madfiend you need to ask the great question of the digital age: what is the value of an idea? You might go all Anarchist Cookbook and say commerce kills art and music yearns to be free but you’d better start imagining how Dark Side of the Moon or Thriller would have sounded if Pink Floyd or MJ had had to fit recording sessions in their parents’ living rooms in between double shifts at Officeworks. Sure, most young bands juggle music-making with shitty jobs, and lowered home recording costs make it much easier for an amateur to get passable results, but that only goes so far. Great records don’t happen by magic. They happen because people with talent, expertise and, crucially, time spend countless hours in cramped spaces with poor lighting using their collective experience to create something that, if they’re lucky, will recoup the expenses incurred in its creation.

Ultimately it’s on you, the eager consumer. Does every artist deserve Kanye money? That’s unlikely. But if you believe Spotify rates are fair and balanced then you might want to start forking out for some concert tickets, Officeworks is hiring and even geniuses have to follow the money.

Adam Disney

Adam Disney

Adam Disney

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