Now that I’m in trouble. Here’s what I was trying to say

I suck at getting points across in 140 characters so I am going to get it across in way more characters than that.

I was having a conversation with @doylealbee about this article, which was talking about how artists are taking a bath from services like Spotify. I got myself in trouble with a good friend really quickly because, from what how I would react having read the crap I responded with, it came across like I was trying to defend these services and say “screw the artists, I want everything for free!”.

Let me be clear: This is not the case at all.

The point I was utterly failing at getting across was that I see these services very similarly to how Zoe Keating says she sees them (from the article). I will explain, hopefully in such a way that I don’t have angry people waiting in my bushes to pummel me as soon as I leave my house.

An artist does a ton of work to get where they are in their careers. To quote Doyle, “Master an instrument, write songs people want to hear, record, tour, etc.”. This is no easy feat and someone who does that much work should be fairly compensated for it. The problem that I see is that there’s a precedent within the industry and among the customers where the artist gets screwed. The industry takes quite a bit, the customers give very little or just outright steal. This is not right in any way and I am in no way, nor will I ever, defend this practice in any industry.

Now, the artist does all their work to create a great song. They print it on CDs, LPs, digitally and distribute it both in person, in stores, and online.  They are *hopefully* making money from these avenues. THEN, services like Spotify pick it up or are given the music through distributors. Spotify as a business doesn’t want to pay too much and the majority of people using the service don’t really want to pay either. However, there is still money to be made. Yes, bigger labels with more swing will get more money – that’s the way the world works and it sucks (not defending this either). However, if you look at Spotify like Zoe Keating does in the article, as a discovery service where people can find the artists music, then the service makes sense. The fact that the artist is making some money on it at the same time (even though it’s not great), I believe would ideally be seen as a benefit to the artist. It is not being seen that way though, because the money isn’t great.  The problem is volume in this case, which is basically to say that since Spotify can play a song 70k times a month, they can’t afford to pay very much for each song. Again, I realize that they pay more for some music than others, that’s not the point. The point is that from a business perspective, the higher the volume the less money to be made on each play.

Now, since the artist can make some money from these services, let me rephrase this argument as one of residual income rather than sole income. I will do this from my perspective, because this is what I know, in internet terms.

I went to school for 5 years to get dual degrees in IT and CS. I have had multiple jobs doing some sort of programming from 2003 until April of 2012, I am now recruiting but still in my field using my knowledge from previous jobs and school. So, I have put in quite a bit of time. 10 years into my industry .  35% of my life so far if you don’t count the random jobs I did in highschool with IT.  If I put that knowledge into a website that I can push to a server and walk away from, it can make me a some extra money on top of what I am making doing my full time job.  That’s a good thing, right? Now, I am not getting $10k for this site like I would if I were to take on a contract for someone and build it for them directly. I am not getting paid an hourly rate and I put somewhere between 5 and 100 hours of work, if not more into this project.  I might make $.30 a month on a site like that, I might make $100 a month. But it’s residual income that I am getting, it’s not my whole income.

What would an artist be getting from a service like Spotify if they weren’t on there?  $0. But, instead Spotify exists and they are getting money from it and awareness from it.  Hopefully, people will go and find this artist on iTunes and purchase their music.

Now to defend myself a bit here: I purchase music when I find it and love it. I have purchased every CD that Zoe Keating has put out and I was 5th row at a concert she did at the Chautaqua, even though I listen to her music on Pandora frequently.

I am not saying it is right that services treat some artists as second class or that someone with way more creativity or skill that I will ever have should be paid next to nothing for their art. What I am saying is that there is the potential for a perspective problem with thinking that every avenue of revenue should pay $1MM.  It’s the collective of all the avenues that make an income, especially in the music industry, and it needs to be seen that way.  It’s really hard to change a system and it’s really hard to change the minds of a large number of people to go from getting stuff for free to paying for it. Yes, it has happened and yes I hope that the music industry does change for the benefit of the artists, but the reality is that it probably won’t.

//Apologies to you, Doyle, for coming across as a complete ass. Yes, I like to stir the pot, but I did not in any way intend to come across the way that I did over twitter.  Hopefully this clears up my side of that convo. If I am still way off, PLEASE call me and tell me what I am not realizing or seeing. I will listen and I will totally change course if I am wrong here.  It’s who I am and hopefully, you’ve known me long enough to know that! If not, you do now – so set my ignorant ass straight!

//Also, apologies to anyone reading this because my sentence structure and punctuation are for shit. I know it’s true. If anything is particularly offensive, tell me and I’ll fix it.

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  • Doyle Albee

    First, I never thought you were an ass. Figuring out how to enjoy creative content at a reasonable cost while providing fair compensation to the creators of that content isn’t easy.

    In my opinion, here’s the part you’re missing: let’s say I write an article and get paid $500 to do it. Assuming I have the rights, I put it on a couple of sites where I can make a couple of bucks for each download. That money is gravy because I already got paid to write the article.
    The Spotify example is different because the original payment doesn’t necessarily exist. If a service like Spotify (which I pay for and enjoy) allows me to listen to a song as much as I like without ever buying it — which it does — that stops being “residual” income because it takes away the original income. I didn’t buy the album on iTunes, I just bookmarked it on Spotify. Using the math in the article, let’s say I listen to that album monthly for the next year, and let’s say the album has 10 songs. That’s 120 plays of an artist’s music for which that artist would be compensated about 51 cents.
    That’s not a sustainable business model for artists, sound engineers, session musicians, etc.
    There are lots of other solutions kicking around, and I hope the industry and artists find one. I’m OK with “renting” my music instead of buying it, but I want to make sure the artists (and the rest of the chain that help make the music) are fairly compensated. I don’t know enough about Spotify to say they’re evil or not, but common sense tells us artists will pull their music if presence there both hurts sales and doesn’t pay a reasonable amount to replace those lost sales.

    And that’s bad for everyone.

    • Matt Bernier

      This is why you’re awesome. Thanks for the reply. Of course I just noticed it today, because I had turned off email notifications with Disqus.

      Is there any benefit to a song being on Spotify (or similar services) vs. not being on them? It would be really interesting to see if overall sales go up or stagnate when a song/artist is not on those services. Knowing would at least justify whether an artist should even consider it.

      I do agree that the model is broken and that the money isn’t flowing in the right direction: to the people who are producing the product.