Taylor Swift has never been the most enthusiastic supporter of free music — earlier this year, she wrote: “Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for.” Her position turned more extreme Monday morning when, one week after releasing her new album 1989, Swift’s label Big Machine Music abruptly yanked her entire catalog from Spotify.
A music-industry source says Big Machine made the decision last week without negotiating with Spotify, which offers a free desktop service and allows users to pay $5 or $10 a month to eliminate ads. The source suggests the label’s potential sale has prompted founder Scott Borchetta to try to get “a pop on their sales” in order to maximize the company’s value. “It came completely out of the blue,” the source says. According to Billboard, 1989 is on track to sell more than 1 million copies in its first week.
But the source disagrees with Borchetta’s logic: “There are reasons why you can sell 1 million units, but it’s got nothing to do with not providing that album to Spotify. Every 15-year-old knows where to get that record, and it’s not iTunes.”
On Monday, Spotify issued a statement about Swift’s decision, writing, “We love Taylor Swift, and our more than 40 million users love her even more – nearly 16 million of them have played her songs in the last 30 days, and she’s on over 19 million playlists.
“We hope she’ll change her mind and join us in building a new music economy that works for everyone. We believe fans should be able to listen to music wherever and whenever they want, and that artists have an absolute right to be paid for their work and protected from piracy. That’s why we pay nearly 70% of our revenue back to the music community.”
The streaming service included two custom-designed playlists, including one that, when all the song’s titles are laid out back-to-back, say, “Hey Taylor, we wanted to play your amazing love songs and they’re not here right now. We want you back with us, and so do do do your fans.”
Music sales have been dropping all year, as the record industry navigates a shift from selling downloads to offering music catalogs via streaming services such as Spotify, YouTube and Beats Music. Album sales are down 14 percent, according to Nielsen Soundscan, and track sales are down 13 percent, but paid subscriptions jumped 57 percent last year, the Recording Industry Association of America reported.
Some artists, including Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, have complained vehemently about Spotify’s business model, insisting they receive low royalty payments while fans get the music for free, but Spotify reps have insisted the money gets better as more users sign up to the service and pay for premium subscriptions.