In the week she sold 1.3 million copies of her new album 1989, Swift abruptly pulled her single “Shake It Off” and all of her previously released music from the streaming service, frustrating its 40 million users. “We never wanted to embarrass a fan,” says Scott Borchetta, president of Big Machine Label Group, in a radio interview with Motley Crue’s Nikki Sixx, of all people. “If this fan went and purchased the record, CD, iTunes, wherever, and then their friends go, ‘why did you pay for it? It’s free on Spotify,’ we’re being completely disrespectful to that superfan.”
Artists from Radiohead’s Thom Yorke to Talking Heads’ David Byrne have been harshly critical over the past few years of Spotify’s model, which allows fans to listen to tens of millions of songs for free but pay $5 or $10 a month for its premium, advertising-free service. Swift has “windowed” her last few albums on Spotify, allowing the service to post the album a few months after their release dates, but she changed her policy this week. “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,” she told Yahoo. “And I just don’t agree with perpetuating the perception that music has no value and should be free.”
Borchetta echoed those remarks. “They have a very good player. It’s a good service. And they’re going to just have to change their ways on how they do business. If you’re going to do an ad-supported free service, why would anybody pay for the premium service?” he said on the national radio show Sixx Sense with Nikki Sixx. “It can’t be endless free. Give people a 30-day trial, and then make them convert. Music has never been free. It’s always cost something and it’s time to make a stand and this is the time to do it.”
While Swift has made her back catalog available on non-Spotify streaming services such as Beats Music, Rhapsody and Tidal, her latest album remains unavailable on any of those services. Borchetta, however, did not discuss YouTube, which has been streaming songs from 1989 for free all week.
Spotify is not an illegal music service like the original Napster. The Swedish company pays hundreds of millions of dollars to license songs from all the major record labels, including Universal Music, which distributes Swift’s songs and the rest of Big Machine’s catalog. Although Spotify acknowledges artist royalties amount to per-stream payouts between $0.006 and $0.0084, its officials say the payments will increase as more people listen to ads and pay for premium subscriptions.
Plus, Spotify defenders say, it’s better for fans to hear 1989 or any other music through an ad-supported service than lose the sale completely via online piracy. “If you’ve got millions and millions of people using those services, at least they’re in a commercial ecosystem,” says a source at a major record label. “Before, they weren’t — they were completely un-monetized.”
Still, Borchetta criticized Spotify for its lack of flexibility. “They take [the music], and they say, ‘We’re going to put it everywhere we want to put it, and we really don’t care about what you want to do. Give us everything that you have and we’re going to do what we want with it.’ And that doesn’t work for us. . . . They just need to be a better partner.”