Swift vs. Spotify: One Artist’s Junk is Another’s Treasure

*stands up*

Hi. I’m Tina. I’m 26 years-old and I still buy CDs. In fact, I buy music all the time. I’m that nerd that goes out early on release day and hunts down the albums I’ve been dying to get my hands on. I guess you could say I’m obsessed. I think if it came down to the choice of either buying a new album or buying lunch, I’d pick music any day. Sometimes, I’ve even had to make that choice. I try to choose wisely, but music usually wins over something that my body needs to stay alive. Stupid? Probably. But to me, I see music as a form of sustenance as well. So yes, I am a major supporter of purchasing music. If it’s not available in a physical format, to iTunes I go! Can I afford this lifestyle? Absolutely not. But I do it anyway because I believe that an artist’s work should be bought if it’s something you wholeheartedly admire. It literally hurts when I hear that since 2001, CD sales have declined dramatically. As a music collector, that makes everything I believe in feel so much more important. If someone doesn’t support who they are listening to by buying their album, should they really be calling themselves music fans? Music lurkers sounds more appropriate – just browsing but never ready to fully commit. Hey Taylor! New song idea!

Taylor Swift is everywhere lately. I’ve been a fan of Swift’s since 2006 when she released her debut and watching her blossom into the smart and savvy business-woman she is today has been nothing short of awe-inspiring. It’s quite intimidating, her being a year younger than me and having all of this major success while I’m just here, writing about her music and looking for a way to get paid for it. With the recent release of her fifth studio album, 1989, Swift has bypassed all expectations and sold 1 million copies, which makes her the first artist of 2014 to hit the 1 million mark. Her first week’s sales alone made it the fastest selling album since Eminem’s The Eminem Show in 2002. I would say that’s an impressive feat, but she’s Taylor Swift, and I pretty much knew this album was going to blow up, especially with her new pop-centric sound. The girl could attend the opening of a Wal-Mart store in rural Kentucky and people would show up. There is nothing she cannot do that won’t garner attention. Whether you love her to death or you love to hate her (while still bopping your head to “Shake It Off” hoping no one catches you), you cannot deny that she’s America’s sweetheart (unless you do something shady, which in that case, good riddance) who’s living the dream of every musician. Her success is impressive whether you enjoy her music or not, and her recent ballsy attitude towards the rise in music streaming has (surprise! surprise!) caught the world’s attention.

Swift recently pulled her entire catalog off of Spotify, stating, “I’m not willing to contribute my life’s work to an experiment that I don’t feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists and creators of this music. And I just don’t agree with perpetuating the perception that music has no value and should be free.”

She continued: “I try to stay really open-minded about things, because I do think it’s important to be a part of progress. But I think it’s really still up for debate whether this is actual progress, or whether this is taking the word ‘music’ out of the music industry. Also, a lot of people were suggesting to me that I try putting new music on Spotify with “Shake It Off” and so I was open-minded about it. I thought, ‘I will try this; I’ll see how it feels.’ It didn’t feel right to me.

“I felt like I was saying to my fans, ‘If you create music someday, if you create a painting someday, someone can just walk into a museum, take it off the wall, rip off a corner of it, and it’s theirs now and they don’t have to pay for it,” she continued. “I didn’t like the perception that it was putting forth. And so I decided to change the way I was doing things.”

One half of me is shouting, “You go girl!” while the other is feeling harshly snubbed. Let’s take a look at the facts: Spotify apparently pays hundreds of millions of dollars to license songs from every major record label. The streaming service, which offers free and paid memberships to its 40 million users, acknowledges artist royalties, paying nearly 70% of their revenue back to the music community. Officials say that payments will increase as more people listen to ads and pay for premium subscriptions.

As a music writer who hears the trials of up-and-coming indie artists making their way through a hefty crowd of hungry musicians, Spotify is the catalyst to getting discovered. I have found tons of my favorite artists while browsing Spotify that are now on their way to becoming mega stars, have just signed to a major label, or better yet, own their own label and are doing it their own way. For them, I understand the struggle of a measly royalty check, but with access to Spotify, people are tuning in more and if they’re anything of a die-hard music fan like myself, if they like what they hear, there’s no doubt that they will buy what they like.

Pop/R&B newcomer, BANKS, who just released her powerful debut, Goddess, is a strong supporter of Spotify, recently tweeting her gratitude out to her 85,000 followers and counting.

Love hearing people discovered GODDESS on @Spotify! //t.co/CFps3iKsFv ❤️❤️❤️

— BANKS (@hernameisbanks) November 3, 2014

For millions of artists like BANKS, Spotify is a blessing. When you get down to the heart of it, it’s the number 1 place to discover and share music. The more exposure (and availability) you give to your music, the more fans you’ll reel in. Ultimately, those fans, like most Swifties, have a motto: “go hard or go home.” They will buy your music, support you on tour, and purchase band merchandise. How do I know this? Because I am a fan myself. When I support something, I support tenfold…if the funds are there, of course.

Swift, on the other hand has already achieved superstardom. The girl now owns houses in multiple states around the country, sells out arenas in the blink of an eye and maybe I’m exaggerating, but I’m pretty sure she is one of the richest people in the world. That’s not to say that she doesn’t deserve every penny she makes. She may be rich but she works hard for it. Most of Swift’s fans already own all of her albums in multiple formats, so when they listen to her on Spotify, it’s to either add her to a playlist or to just simply enjoy all she’s given us. Fans have stated that they feel snubbed. Some people can’t afford to buy an album, and listening to her music on Spotify was the only way to gain access into her music. Sometimes, your favorite artist’s words are all you have and when that’s gone, where do you turn?

I support Swift on her Spotify stance. If anyone can get away with this, it’s her so I understand where she’s coming from. However, I do not agree with her calling it an “experiment” and making it sound like the death of the music industry. Whether her albums are featured on Spotify or not, she’s still going to be breaking records left and right. She’s freaking Taylor Swift for crying out loud! Teenage girls start sobbing at the sight of her. For the first time in my life, I’m kind of disappointed in Swift. Obviously we all need to support ourselves, but even if her career miraculously died tomorrow, she should be able to live more than comfortably until she’s 113 years old (see what I did there?).

Her rather capitalist attitude saddens me, especially in these hard economic times when most of the middle class, who make up 90% of her fanbase, struggle to make ends meet; something she clearly doesn’t live with hanging over her head every day. She makes it sound as if she’s more interested in boosting her album sales rather than getting her music into the hands of fans, which if she hasn’t already noticed, would go out in droves to buy her music anyway, even if placed in a crocodile’s mouth. She’s not giving people enough credit. She made it pretty clear eight years ago that she’s here to stay, and as long as she’s putting out the quality music that she’s known for, album sales should be the least of her problems.

I often wonder what Swift’s career would be like now if she had burst onto the scene in the midst of the streaming era. For the little guys that I root for every day, Spotify is the golden nugget. Unfortunately, the music industry isn’t fair. The writing industry isn’t fair. The blogging industry isn’t fair. Nothing is fair, but sometimes with a little effort and exposure with little to no pay, magical things happen. Should music be free? No, unless authorized by the artist, but going to extremes and pulling your entire catalog off of a service that is ultimately bringing in more listeners isn’t something I would call cool. But I support her decision. It looks like Swift and Spotify are never ever getting back together…like ever.

It may not pay much, but people are still listening. Just like how I don’t get paid AT ALL for what I do, but people are still reading. People are checking out what I promote and therefore, it’s leading up to a bigger fanbase for those featured artists, along with potential album sales. I understand how smaller acts may feel, but this coming from the world’s biggest female act? No. Just no. For the rookies, however, it’s not an “experiment,” it’s a movement.