Recently, there’s been a lot of commotion surrounding Spotify, Pandora, and other streaming music services, most specifically relating to how little musicians are receiving in return for their music being played on them. As a musician myself, I have been keenly interested in the discussion, and decided to try to educate myself on the matter.
After reading about Thom Yorke’s denouncement of Spotify last week, and also listening to some discussions online and on the radio (most notably, On Point’s 7/17 show called “Is Spotify Fair To Musicians?”), I have come to a conclusion that, strangely enough, no one else is talking about:
The problem with the Spotify model isn’t Spotify. It’s the fact that no one wants to pay for something that actually should be paid for. It’s the fact that Spotify is just stealing, wrapped up in a business model so people can numb themselves to what they are doing, so everybody can make it ok. It’s the fact that streaming music for free – rather than actually buying the music that brings you joy, solace, comfort, or whatever it is that you get from it – is stealing.
On the On Point broadcast, there was someone who mentioned how Spotify (and Pandora, and all of the other streaming companies) was just trying to get people to start paying for music again, after years of – with the advent Napster and other file sharing networks – being able to get music for free. They were justifying the low return to the artist by using the following argument: Spotify is actually a better alternative, because at least people are paying SOMETHING, otherwise they would just go back to free illegal downloads. And really, we just need to be patient and realize that these are baby steps, because people are so used to getting music for free, and that’s going to take a while to change.
Baby steps towards what? This makes no sense. So let me see if I have this right: If someone is a shoplifter for years, maybe the way to address the problem is to ask them to pay a few cents for the $50 shirt they are stealing from the store, so eventually maybe they’ll work their way up to actually paying the market value for it? Because the alternative is to just continue to let them steal from other sources?
Bottom line: If you use Spotify, you are stealing music. You can totally tell yourself you are doing something different, but that’s just to make yourself feel better. Because in reality – you are getting value for free. And that is stealing.
Let me use a metaphor to illustrate:
Let’s say there’s a guitar shop right next door to your house that’s open 24/7. And every time that you want to play the guitar, you go over there and you play the guitar until you’re satisfied. And then you get up and go home. And then let’s say everyone who comes in the shop starts to do the same thing. How would you feel about that? Would you feel like that was ok? Now, I suppose you could argue that you shouldn’t have to pay for the guitar because, after all, you’re not taking it home with you! But does that feel right to you, really? Though perhaps more to the point – how long would that guitar shop stay in business? How would the shop owner make money? How could the guitar manufacturers be able to continue to produce guitars, if no one were buying them anymore? Because, after all, why should they have to, if they can just go to the guitar shop and play them whenever they want, for free?
There’s another aspect of this that people keep mentioning as well – that musicians will just have to figure out other ways to make money, that they have to realize that technology is changing the business model, that they have to work harder now to build a community. And if musicians aren’t willing to change with the times, tough luck on them. But that’s another misguided myth. The problem isn’t technology – the problem (come on, say it with me now!) is that people steal. So should musicians be told they now have to work harder and do other things to compensate for the fact that people are stealing from them?
Technology has only made it easier to steal – it’s not a moral compass, and therefore shouldn’t be used to justify actions. 15 years ago, if you wanted to listen to the new Pearl Jam album for free, you had to go to a record shop and steal it. You had to actively be the person stuffing that CD into your pants and walking out the door. You had to FEEL it. Now, you can just say to yourself, “I don’t need to buy the new Pearl Jam record, I’ll just listen to it on Spotify, or maybe I’ll just get it off some download site”. You don’t have to actually FEEL the act of stealing. Even though it’s, for all practical purposes, the same thing.
And I know I’ve said this before, but musicians, you yourselves are just as guilty. You give your music away, thinking, this will get me a fan base! This will help me down the road! That’s insane. You invested your time, your money, and your resources, and now you’re giving your music away? If you really believe that what you do has value, quit begging. Quit devaluing what you do. Stand up for what you are worth. Do you really think that 10 bucks is an unreasonable exchange for something that can move people, touch their souls, make them dance, make them cry? NOTE: Thom Yorke himself is a bit of a hypocrite – in 2007, his other band, Radiohead, did a campaign with the download of their album In Rainbows where they decided to let the buyer determine how much they wanted to pay. Which is similarly insane. Because if someone wants to pay $1 for your record, it doesn’t mean that it’s worth that. It means that they are cheap and don’t want to actually pay what something is worth.
So now we come to the most important question of all – How do we solve this problem?
First: Stop giving people legal ways to steal music.
Second: Educate people so they can even recognize that they ARE stealing. We live in a world where people are so cut off from reality that they don’t even see what they are doing, and just because technology has afforded us the ability to steal without consciousness doesn’t make it ok.
And last – but certainly not least: Musicians -we need to band together and STOP GIVING OUR VALUE AWAY! We must all demand that the stealing stop – And unless we all are a unified front, this will never work.
Otherwise, someday soon, the music will die. Because musicians won’t be able to afford to make it anymore.
And then what?