In Taylor Swift-Spotify Debate, Sparks Fly Over Numbers

Marc Hogan

By Marc Hogan

Lead News Writer
on 11.13.14 in News

In the public breakup between Taylor Swift and Spotify, neither side is walking away quietly. And as in any messy celebrity divorce, there’s a disagreement over dollars and cents.

After the recent release of Swift’s new album 1989, the country-pop mega-seller pulled her full discography from the service (see Eric Harvey’s essay Taylor Swift’s Spotify Decision Means Nothing For Smaller Artists). Earlier this week, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek suggested in a lengthy response that Swift would’ve been on track to earn $6 million a year from the streaming provider. Now both sides are acknowledging Swift’s actual Spotify earnings have been much less than that, which means the other 99.999 percent of recording acts are earning much, much less.

Big Machine Records CEO Scott Borchetta told Time that Swift’s payout for U.S. streams of her music on Spotify over the last 12 months has been $496,044.

That’s a far cry from $6 million, though to be fair, it mostly includes a period before Swift released a new album and Spotify’s projections took into account potential future growth. What’s more, again, Borchetta’s number includes only domestic revenues.  That said, Borchetta told Time his label, which releases Swift’s records, has earned more from video streams on Vevo than from Spotify.

Spotify isn’t claiming Swift has actually earned $6 million a year from its service. A company rep told Time her global earnings from Spotify over the last 12 months totaled $2 million. “The more we grow, the more we pay artists, and we’re growing like crazy,” said Jonathan Prince, Spotify’s global head of communications and public policy.

Borchetta said the U.S. music industry was better off without Spotify. ““Don’t forget this is for the most successful artist in music today,” he told Time. “What about the rest of the artists out there struggling to make a career? Over the last year, what Spotify has paid is the equivalent of less than 50,000 albums sold.”

Swift isn’t the only recent album chart-topper to rebel against Spotify. Country singer Jason Aldean, whose latest record Old Boots, New Dirt hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in October, has pulled the album from Spotify, as Billboard reports. He said he made the move in an effort to get fair pay for songwriters, producers, engineers and others involved in making an album.

“The debate the whole music industry is having on streaming is complicated,” Aldean said in a statement to the Associated Press. “And while I’m definitely paying attention to the business side of things, I am first and foremost an artist. I’m an artist whose career has been built by the songwriters, publishers, producers and engineers that line Music Row in Nashville. What they do has value, and I want everyone who is involved in making my music to be paid fairly. This is about trying to do what is right for the people who have given me a great life.”

Meanwhile, Spotify is about to face some new competition, as YouTube prepares to roll out Music Key, a subscription-based music streaming service. Streaming revenues continue to grow — they helped offset a drop in digital download sales in the first half of the year — and Spotify recently overtook iTunes in Europe as a source of royalties.

Still, Borchetta’s comments echo recent remarks Jimmy Buffett made to Spotify’s CEO about the challenges facing musicians less (ridiculously) fortunate than he. Buffett asked, “Do you see any time in the future where we might see a raise directly from you as opposed to going through the bullshit you have to go through to deal with a label these days?”