Spot The Truth?

The new version of the old debate about Spotify payments to artists illuminates only one thing, no-one in the music industry trusts anyone. Thom Yorke & Nigel Godrich may (or may not) have had good intentions but I can guarantee that some people will still be a bit sceptical about that.

They may be making a great point and they may also have re-ignited a healthy debate about ‘streaming’ in general but in the process they’ve definitely emphasized the fact that they’ve got a new album out – and you can no longer stream it (unless you go here of course).

The more cynical among us might claim that the only reason to stop an album streaming is because it’s having a negative effect on sales, Spotify themselves suggest otherwise in a recent report but the terms of reference (comparing only a limited number of selected albums in one territory) could be contested.

Some commentators have suggested that it’s too early in Spotify’s life-span to judge whilst others have tried to get at the detail of payments. The truth is that understanding earnings from recorded music is bloody complicated as these two contradictory pieces reveal.  

The lack of trust between labels and artists, artists and managers and any combination of those and streaming/download services means that the truth is even harder to discern, even for those of us who are used to the environment and have an interest in the business models. A very simple fact is that artists always want to appear to be the good guys; they’re going to be reticent in revealing their actual revenue streams as to do so often unleashes unwarranted wrath from those who think that artists are greedy.  

It’s interesting that they chose to make the ‘withdrawal’ revelation on Twitter where they’re likely to be ‘amongst friends’ – followers being generally supportive – and any debate is pretty limited – 140 characters each time. You can also choose to opt in and out of the debate depending on your free time and if you like the way it’s going.

My preference is also for simplicity, we’ll get nowhere until everyone chooses to come clean. I doubt that we’ll ever have full transparency as no businesses work in that way but powerful artists (like Thom) can make a difference if they choose to engage.

In very general terms it seems obvious that the old model is broken and Spotify could be a portal into a new model, eventually. New artists may not be paid much as they don’t have a vast back-catalogue of material to lean upon, but how else are they going to even get heard? The fact remains that there are too many musicians and too few music fans willing to pay the going rate to hear them. There are only so many major acts and they are currently the only ones likely to earn from the industry in its current form.

Thom & Nigel’s project has a distinct advantage over other new acts in that they have names and pre-built reputations attached. Instead of opting out of Spotify you could suggest that they shouldn’t be taking money out of the industry at all, since it’s likely (in this economic climate) to be money that then won’t be spent on another act.  

The presence of big artists on Spotify could help smaller ones as the ‘recommendation algorithm’ will theoretically open up new acts to you. I’ve covered this (to a degree) in the past and the recommendations of Spotify and/or Amazon are still far from great but you’d have to assume that with increased usage they will improve. It may be that as the excellent Music Ally has pointed out that this needs to be driven as much by the artists as the platforms.

Sadly it seems to be another music industry issue that we’re no nearer to resolving, you can’t see the wood for the trees and you still can’t get all of the music on the stream.