When Musicians Feud, Consumers Are the Real Winners
Last week, Taylor Swift’s new album officially became available on all streaming platforms. This may not seem like exciting news. After all, most albums are available on Spotify. And, the album was already released for purchase almost a month earlier.
But it wasn’t so long ago when Ms. Swift removed her entire music library from Spotify insisting that she was taking a stand on behalf of all musicians.
And while many listeners were unsure if her music would ever return, market competition provided the vessel that ultimately resulted in TSwift featuring her music on streaming platforms once again.
Swift has long been an advocate of “musician rights,” if you can call it that, claiming that these music industry elites are suffering from crippling record sales as streaming services like Spotify, Pandora, and Apple Music have dominated the consumer music market.
To be sure, physical album sales have been suffering for years ever since MP3s became the new normal. As a millennial, I hardly remember buying physical CD’s before the invention of Napster and other pirating platforms became commonplace in the beginning of the new millennium. As a child, I remember saving up my allowance in order to buy a Spice Girls CD from an actual music store, which only a few short years later became obsolete.
But in Swift’s defense, she did manage to do something no other artist had done; she has continuously broken records when it comes to physical album sales in a time when a majority of her fans have never even owned a CD player. There is something to be said for this, as she clearly has demonstrated her popularity and demand in the music market, but that hardly justifies her stance on the matter.
Music streaming services are not “free,” in the sense that Swift claims they are. Not only do patrons pay a monthly fee to use these platforms, but each time the user plays a song, the artists are compensated. It is not an exorbitant fee per play, but if, for example, like me you have listened to the Hamilton soundtrack literally thousands of times, that can add up quickly. And I am just one person.
However, Swift has been opposed to this model, even writing a scathing letter to Apple Music condemning the company for not compensating artists enough for the privilege of streaming their music and declaring that “1989” would not be available to stream. This letter was met with criticism from many, including Foo Fighters frontman, Dave Grohl who said:
“Me personally? I don’t *** care. That’s just me, because I’m playing two nights at Wembley next summer. I want people to hear our music, I don’t care if you pay $1 or *** $20 for it, just listen to the fucking song. But I can understand how other people would object to that.”
Bad Blood, Cheaper Music
But as adamant as Swift has been in her quest to protect artists from being taken advantage of (and to be clear that is to be read with a hint of sarcasm) she has done a complete 180 within the last few months, announcing that her entire discography will once again be available on Spotify.
Celebrity gossip columns were quick to pick up on the timing of this change of heart, pointing out that Swift’s entire music catalog was being brought back to Spotify on the exact day that Katy Perry’s new album was scheduled for its release on the same platform.
This was not lost on Perry, who said she couldn’t be sure of Swift’s intention, but that the timing was definitely suspect. From the perspective of a music consumer who, aside from purchasing a membership to “Tidal” specifically to stream Beyonce’s Lemonade album, has been a devoted Spotify loyalist, I couldn’t be happier about Swift’s decision.
I comment often on the consumer benefits of market competition and this current situation is no different. Without competing products— iPod vs. Zune, Hulu vs. Netflix, Coke vs. Pepsi, Backstreet Boys vs. NSYNC—the consumer would not have access to the very best and innovative goods on the market. The need to be constantly improving on an existing good or service in order to out beat the competitors serves only to benefit the consumers. It also is serving Swift well as her older songs are currently outperforming Katy Perry’s newest album, “Witness.”
I will be the first to admit that when Swift initially removed her discography from Spotify, I immediately pirated her albums in protest. Now, I will happily delete these files in exchange for the Spotify Taylor Swift experience. Do you hear that T-Swift? Streaming also discourages pirating, but that, alas, is a topic for another time.