In a Tight Spotify

I’ve gotten some questions lately about my perspective as an independent artist on the “Spotify” debate. It’s been a hotly debated topic among musicians, music fans, and general music business industry folk.
Much like any other “business” in our modern age, the music industry is always in a constant state of flux. Things ebb and flow in the constant dynamic between the customers, the laborers, and the people running the “machine” (for lack of a better term). The artists have always been at odds with the people who had the shameless (yet efficient) business sense to exploit, capitalize, and ultimately profit from the talent of those who had creative ability. From the days of music row to the liberties that were taken from the classic blues singers in the 40’s and 50’s… From the pop culture obsessions of the mid-50’s to the chemically-induced revolution of the 60’s… Or the excesses of the 70’s and 80’s to the unattainable and unachievable monetary record-label advances that underscored the industry in the 90’s..
The one thing that has been consistent in the music industry during the century that it has been an ‘industry’, is that for every person who is able to create something, there is someone else who wants to profit from it. In many cases, it’s a partnership in which the sum is greater than the combination of the two parts. Would Elvis have been such a legend if he hadn’t had the shrewd/competent business manager “Colonel” Tom Parker? My personal opinion would be no. Although he took far more than a fair share of the income, he encouraged Presley not to write his own material, and he eventually entitled a broken man to his doom with drink and drug, I feel that my own theoretical statistics would show that a good percentage of us would have no idea who Elvis was if it weren’t for Tom Parker… As evil as he may have seemed.
If Phil and Leonard Chess hadn’t completely financially raped blues artists like Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon in the process of making them famous back in the day, would bands like The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin have been able to gain success and develop a legacy a decade or two later? I’d venture to guess not. (The Rolling Stones got their name and many of the foundations of their early songs from Muddy Waters, and Led Zeppelin basically built their entire brand on re-hashing Willie Dixon-written tunes).
I could keep going with examples in chronological order from the old days until today, but in order to refrain from being long-winded, I’ll throw out a self-indulgent quote to my own song (Hey Faith) and say “Things change, it’s so strange the more they stay the same”.
With the advent of social media and iTunes/other digital entities being an outlet, independent artists started to think recently that they could do everything themselves, that they didn’t need some kind of formal “establishment” to help them get across the threshold from obscurity and “succeed” in music. Aside from a small handful of exceptions here and there, the sad truth is that the currency in the music industry is still not music. It’s money. And no one involved has more money than those who have exploited the constant flow of artists as a general business practice since the beginning.

Enter the Spotify discussion. As a music fan, what a great idea (as is Rhapsody, Mog, etc..). Aside from being a musician, I’m still the biggest general music fan I know. I just plain love music. I love making it, I love listening to it. As a listener, I’ve heard the argument that someone doesn’t want to “own the music, they just want to listen to it”., and I can appreciate that.
My problem is not with the listener being able to access the music they want to hear for a fee. I think it’s a great idea. I think it’s the future of the music industry, and I’d like to be a part of it as a musician. My problem with Spotify is that it’s now officially been funded by the industry entities that the very principles of it were designed to bypass. The major record companies (and several major artists on their own) have all invested in the company, and the cut that this entity takes is apparently even more ridiculous than the 50+% that Colonel Parker or Chess Records took from their artists back in the day. Actually, strike that. I have no idea what the real percentage is.. because they won’t tell me exactly how much it is.
All I know, is that I’ve literally gotten a fraction of one cent from each song play while I get the distinct impression that some ass-clown (that I’ve never met) in an office somewhere is collecting more than I am for each listen of a song that I made. THAT… is the only part of Spotify that I have a problem with. I think it sucks that some talentless shit-bag behind a desk is earning more than I am from something that I made.
Adele, The Black Keys, Coldplay, AC/DC and others are all great artists who happen to have the luxury of deciding whether they want their music listened to in certain places or not. (It’s funny to hear people that make more money than God complaining about fractions of cents). Me? My goal at this point in life is still simply to share my music with anyone who might like it.
Sure, I wish I could make an ass-load of money from music sales. That would be great. And sure, this new streaming model sucks for artists just like every other model for every other generation of artists has. But from the perspective of a fellow music fan, it’s not our fault that Spotify is a douche-ridden industry shill and chooses to be a complete asshole to the artists in the name of their own financial gain.
Art is subjective and I think the true spirit of music is to express yourself. I'll do it whether I make money or not. The way I see it, expressing yourself does no good if no one else ever hears it. I'm an artist who currently survives purely on organic exposure. So go ahead, stream as many songs as you want by The High Cell on Spotify or whatever other service you use. As a matter of fact, stream as many as you can. Please share the stuff you like with others, and there are plenty of options if you'd like to actually own the music. Regardless of their shady and non-transparent business practices, I still appreciate Spotify due to the opportunity to share my music with others. What choice do I have?


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