Taylor Swift pulled all her music from Spotify on Monday, save for one song, in a move that’s got many of her fans—and especially the music streaming service—calling desperately for her return.
The Shake It Off singer hasn’t been too keen on sharing her music with Spotify. Swift’s most recent album, 1989, wasn’t on the service, and she initially held off on allowing Spotify to stream her 2012 album, Red. But the 24-year-old, whose music seems to have its own copyright patrol service, had been showing signs that she wouldn’t work with Spotify since July, when she explained her problem with streaming music services in a Wall Street Journal op-ed:
"In my opinion, the value of an album is, and will continue to be, based on the amount of heart and soul an artist has bled into a body of work, and the financial value that artists (and their labels) place on their music when it goes out into the marketplace. Piracy, file sharing and streaming have shrunk the numbers of paid album sales drastically, and every artist has handled this blow differently."
Swift also argued in her piece that free or virtually free songs is at odds with what music really means:
"Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for. It’s my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album’s price point is. I hope they don’t underestimate themselves or undervalue their art."
So how much do Spotify artists actually make? Artists earn on average less than one cent per play, between $0.006 and $0.0084, to be exact, according to Spotify Artists, a website that explains the service to artists.
It’s a small per-stream royalty, but for someone like Swift, a one-cent-per-stream model would likely rack in millions. Spotify has said that an unnamed but real-life artist was earning $425,000 per month in royalties for a “global hit album,” a category likely containing 1989, which is on track to set a record for the best-selling week ever for an album by a female artist. Additionally, over 70% of Spotify’s revenue goes to rights holders like the record label, publisher and distributor.
Other factors also make Spotify a lucrative opportunity for Swift. An artist’s popularity on Spotify is also one of the major metrics in how payout is calculated, and it’s no secret that Swift is a huge traffic driver. Her single Shake It Off was number one on Spotify as of Monday, and it’s likely Spotify’s charts would’ve looked a lot more like the ones on iTunes if 1989 was available there. Swift’s payout would also increase alongside Spotify’s revenue, and it’s likely advertisers would’ve paid pretty large premiums to tap into Swift’s streaming audience.
Spotify has made clear not only to Swift but to all artists that despite how little money artists make per stream compared to per album profits, it believes there is still value in its model:
We personally view “per stream” metrics as a highly flawed indication of our value to artists . . . We believe, however, that our service and the lives of artists will both be best if the world’s music fans enjoy more music than ever before in a legal, paid manner.
Still, it’s obvious that not even the promise of millions is enough to seal a deal with Swift, who’s calling for artists to reject services that devalue their work through low payouts. Other artists have taken similar actions, including musicians like American rock duo The Black Keys, who have spoken out against the small royalties paid by streaming services. Meanwhile, some artists like Coldplay choose to stagger their album’s streaming release in order to encourage listeners to buy or download the album before it’s available for streaming.
Spotify is holding out hope that Swift will return to the service, writing in a Monday statement, “We hope she’ll change her mind and join us in building a new music economy that works for everyone.” But her return doesn’t seem too probable now that she’s taken very real steps to realize what is one of her biggest goals as an influencer, according to her Journal op-ed:
"My hope for the future, not just in the music industry, but in every young girl I meet . . . is that they all realize their worth and ask for it."