published: 13 /
Ben Howarth in 'Condemned to Rock 'n' Roll' examines Taylor Swift's decision to withdraw her music from Spotify
“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” - Taylor Swift, November 2014.
It's hard not to feel a bit smug. I've been telling people to get off Spotify for years now – and it's gratifying to know that Taylor Swift has been reading my columns. She'll be recommending the Papernut Cambridge album next, just you watch...
And, just as its had reached an unbearable level of smugness, suddenly Spotify's business model doesn't look quite so much like a license to print money. If it becomes standard practice for all the big names to whip their back catalogue off the streams when they have something new they want people to buy, they will go bust.
So, I have to say I completely understand Swift's reasoning. In the long term, I am sure she will be vindicated.
In the short term, she will also face a backlash from the kind of casual fans every aspiring megastar needs. She may be reasoning that some people will cancel their Spotify subscriptions if her songs aren't on them, and pay her directly instead. If that's true, other bands will be losing out. Some fans, who have 'built playlists' around her music, already are.
Or is this all clever marketing? To return to the theme of last month's column, it is remarkably easy to avoid pop music these days. Taylor Swift may be one of the most famous people on the planet, but her songs have considerably less reach than they would have done when it was Madonna or even Britney Spears in her space. Pop music is no longer a broad church. IT is lots of little sects who are at pains to avoid each other. Now, Swift has gone from being a rival to Justin Bieber and One Direction to a potential Glastonbury headliner.
One national newspaper was even moved to wonder if this was "a shot in the arm for feminism." That seems a bit much – but does tell us that Taylor Swift, who previously competed with Justin Bieber for record sales, is now coming for Beyoncé.
But, to suggest this is all a ploy seems too cynical to me. Swift has clearly thought hard about Spotify, and much of the cynicism she's faced has been nakedly sexist. She is, after all, entitled to sell or not sell her music wherever she wants. And nobody wondered whether Thom Yorke's management were really behind his decision to withdraw from Spotify (though it's equally plausible).
Swift's stance is admirably hostile – she hasn't left herself wriggle room to return to Spotify after the Christmas sales push ends (though they are, understandably, desperate to have her back). But that doesn't mean she should be allowed to avoid some tricky questions – specifically, does this mean that she also won't be appearing on Google's soon-to-launched streaming service?
Indeed, Spotify's paying customers are entitled to feel miffed. After all, they paid their subscriptions in good faith. They should be angry with Spotify, but many are instead angry with Swift.
And, in one respect, they have a point. After all, you are only a google search (which may or may not be 'Youtube MP3 converter') from unfettered access to all of Swift's singles, exclusive live tracks and plenty of album tracks as well. This may not be 'legal' but YouTube aren't doing anything serious to stop it, and Swift still maintains an active account on YouTube. For consistency, her videos should only appear on genuinely secure sites. Why only penalise law-abiding Spotify users and not law-breaking YouTubers?