In fact, the country-pop crossover star’s vampire squid-like grasp on the music business is multi-platform. Spotify, which recently revealed it had lost access to her entire discography, has responded to Swift’s snub with a lengthy blog post from CEO Daniel Ek. As for that app, yes, Swift has released a “360 immersive” experience based on her new “Blank Space” video.
Let’s look at Spotify first (don’t miss contributor Eric Harvey’s essay, Taylor Swift’s Spotify Decision Means Nothing For Smaller Artists). Ek, in his post, essentially argues that Swift is right about music having value but wrong about quitting Spotify.
Ek announced that Spotify has now paid out $2 billion in royalties since 2008, up from the $1 billion disclosed a year ago amid criticism from Thom Yorke and others. The streaming service has grown to more than 50 million active users, including 12.5 million who pay roughly $120 annually, he disclosed. The Spotify boss also said Swift’s recordings would probably have generated a payout of $6 million a year. (Of course, 1989 is already the best-selling album released this year, with first-week sales alone worth an estimated $12 million.)
Ek’s main point is that musical acts should consider their interests and Spotify’s interests as aligned. “We’re getting fans to pay for music again,” he writes. “We’re connecting artists to fans they would never have otherwise found, and we’re paying them for every single listen. We’re not just streaming, we’re mainstreaming now, and that’s good for music makers and music lovers around the world.”
The terrible “mainstreaming” pun is terrible. And he’s certainly right that streaming is here to stay, and that it pays artists more than the nothing they get directly from file-sharing services. But the failure to say much about what he clearly stands to gain from all this — despite promising to be “transparent all the way through” — is unlikely to end the discussion. After all, Spotify isn’t a charity, and if Ek has a legal obligation, it’s to investors, not to people who make music.
As an aside: Do you think Ek looks at the situation the same way in his other business relationships? Imagine being his financial advisor. “Look, I made you a lot of money on the stock market. Our interests are aligned. Don’t worry about my cut.” To which Ek would surely reply, “You’re not just making money, you’re making sense.”
Meanwhile, Swift has her very own app, thanks very much. The tablet and smartphone app for “Blank Space” is available now from the App Store and the Google Play Store. The “American Express Unstaged Taylor Swift Blank Space Experience App” allows users to explore the world of the video, where Swift takes a liking to a handsomely dressed fellow and then becomes violently jealous. In a statement, she said the app “is really fun because we have hidden items in the rooms for fans to find, look at and test their ability to find other items.” Translation: Easter eggs. (See our senior editor Puja Patel’s essay Why Do So Many New Music Videos Look Like Commercials?)
Before Ek’s blog post, Swift explained her decision to quit Spotify in a recent interview. “If I had streamed the new album, it’s impossible to try to speculate what would have happened,” she told Yahoo Music. “But all I can say is that music is changing so quickly, and the landscape of the music industry itself is changing so quickly, that everything new, like Spotify, all feels to me a bit like a grand experiment.”
She continued: “And 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.”
Ek is right that she’s mischaracterizing Spotify by implying it believes music is valueless. He may have to do more work in convincing “the writers, producers, artists and creators” that he is compensating them fairly. And Swift, of all people, must be used to repeated pleas to get back together.