Taylor Swift has been on a mission lately to be paid. After pulling her entire catalog from Spotify's streaming services and attacking its business model we think even she believes what she's saying is accurate. Luckily for the industry, Spotify's CEO and founder Daniel Ek fired back this morning – laying out a brilliant foreshadowing of the industry's direction. Spotify 1 – Swift – 0.
As a whole we’ve managed to avoid the ubiquitous fawning over Taylor Swift currently plaguing entertainment outlets. It’s been a purposeful venture on our part, mainly because we don’t feel we should add to the mob. Mostly though it hasn’t piqued our interest so much. We’ve seen the same song and dance with pop stars past, so what could possibly be unique about this one?
But the Taylor Swift vs. Spotify drama – that’s something we can get behind. Around the official release of Swift’s new album “1989” her team pulled the crossover star’s entire catalog from the streaming site while Swift adamantly attacked the outlet, claiming it was stealing from artists. This morning CEO and founder of Spotify Daniel Ek came back at Swift’s team, outlining discrepancies in her statements.
But we’ll get to that shortly.
February of 2015 will mark the 9th anniversary of my first published article distributed in print format. From 2006 until I started with The Rooster Magazine in December of 2012 I made under $1000 total for probably close to 500 articles, which includes everything from cover stories, artist interviews, restaurant reviews, show recaps, event listings, op-ed pieces, satirical works, show previews and even a first-person account used by a major publication about a shitty tattoo I received after I fell in love with a stripper.
For close to 7 years I was paying dues with thousands of personal hours, late nights and egregiously excessive bar tabs. The only financial upside was when bands would give me free t-shirts as a thank you. I didn’t have to buy clothes very often.
But that was me paying basic artistic comeuppances as a struggling human being looking for a sustainable niche in the world amidst a fucking terrible economy toting along a desire to do more than just fold clothes at a trendy mall-fronted store. There was absolutely no guarantee I would succeed at any of it, especially in the dying format of printed publications and an even worse off arena of shotty journalism. But I did it anyways.
I did it because I loved the excitement surrounding the industry and I enjoyed helping artists akin to myself trying to live by the oft-inaccurate statements drilled into our heads by late-century parenting habits. “You can be anything you want,” they always said.
No more damaging words have ever been spoken to an entire generation of dreamers.
The reality is this: We all can’t all be paid musicians, or writers, or fashion designers, or photographers, or yoga instructors or personal chefs. It’s absolutely possible to be any one of those, but the fruits are bared only to those willing and able to be better than the next. Merely showing up with a self-designated professional title and a school-made portfolio in the real world won’t ever guarantee a paycheck. Dues will always have to be paid, struggle will always have to be real.
So I take the latest drama surrounding the Spotify vs. Swift debacle personally. It’s as if by pulling her own catalog (which she has every right to do) from the streaming site she’s somehow uplifting beginning artists to demand they automatically be paid for substance.
“Music is art, and art is important and rare,” she recently penned in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal. “Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for.”
It makes little sense, because art isn’t rare, it’s everywhere. And most of it has little to no monetary value. Creating with grandiose expectations is creating for the wrong reasons.
Her statements further perpetuate the idea that just by showing up to the party with a fancy designation everyone is entitled to offerings the house has within it. Life isn’t this way. It will never be this way.
Here’s what I think is wrong with the way Taylor Swift Inc. is attempting to manipulate consumers to rally against Spotify. First, she isn’t being honest. Attacking Spotify, as if the company is somehow undermining a working system, is wrong. As Ek points out in his rebuttal, “Any way you cut it, one thing is clear – we’re paying an enormous amount of money to labels and publishers for distribution to artists and songwriters, and significantly more than any other streaming service.”
It pays far more than radio does or ever has, but Swift hasn’t pulled any of her music from stations worldwide, why is that? Is it because radio doesn’t give listeners personalized music choices or the ability to scour the world for a new favorite artist? Radio shoves 40 top hits over the waves of only their approved artists in habitual fashion to assure cherry-picked singles are etched into profits. It’s psychological warfare, and it works.
Next, yanking her “1989” album and catalog is not in the general interest of consumers as her team would like anyone to believe. It’s a marketing trick designed to boost physical sales to claim a well-deserved title of being the only artist to go platinum in 2014. It’s a remarkable achievement still, but would it have happened had her album been open to stream?
Create perceived hype, and the mob-machine takes care of the rest.
Last, what’s her alternative? This isn’t about streaming services being the end-all to the superstar. The music industry is worth more than $130 billion globally and has been under attack from dorm-room programmers for damn near two decades already. With a purse that size diminishing because of outsider competition, everyone can expect some sort of backroom campaigns to earn it back. It’s modern economics and happens within every industry.
There is an ulterior motive. There is always an ulterior motive.
One thing she’s right about, however, is that art can be worth something. It’s sometimes valuable. But the worth of anything human made isn’t automatic. Real value stems from the entity behind a particular piece and its struggle for relevancy. It’s survival of the fittest, perhaps, and a trait that pushes creatives to climb impossible goals of subjective perfection. It builds characters, inspires magna opera of societies and develops brilliant minds to do better, to be better.
Creating isn’t always a sustainable venture.
So if you’ve just recently picked up a guitar, or began the opening words of thoughtful and poetic prose, or brushed a stroke against a blank canvas and are sitting wondering when you’ll be paid – prepare to be disappointed. Prepare to struggle and to fight for what you believe is important. Prepare for a “no” and a “next time” and the “we don’t have money to pay you, but we’ll give you exposure” standbys.
Expect to be paid nothing until you’ve run through tireless dues and can approach an industry with a humbled outlook. Unless you’ve struggled through over saturation to create palatable relevancy your art is worthless to the outside world; and it will be paid accordingly.
Everyone can sing, everyone can write, everyone can paint. Not everyone will pursue the ventures through to the end, however. It’s only when something is of value to others an artist can drop the perceived expectation of a living wage.
Contrary to popular belief, nobody owes you anything.
To contact (or compensate back pay to) the writer of this article, Brian Frederick, email: Brian@TheRooster.com