My mother swarms me with bags left and right. Food, fashion accessories, and I think even a keychain of mace make their way into my duffel bag which is already overflowing with things from home. Coming home for the weekend means bringing back an unnecessarily large amount of objects back to my already crowded apartment. I lug the bags into my car and fumble with my phone and plug it into the auxiliary cord. I look around realizing I have forgotten one of the most important things, like, ever. My phone, wow. What would I do in this day in age without that savvy little piece of technology?
I just so happened to be in one of those “I’m going to listen to Taylor Swift for the entirety of my two and a half hour car ride” kind of moods. So, I look up my Taylor Swift playlist on Spotify, and for some reason I cannot find any of her music, it’s just gone. I thought, those songs have to be somewhere here, right? Wrong.
I look up the artist name, click it, and nothing. Taylor Swift’s music has completely disappeared off of Spotify, and so had the entertainment for my ride home. Taylor had just released her new album, 1989, so I didn’t expect it to be streaming along with the rest of her music, but I, like many others, had depended on this app for her music, and she pulled it all without warning.
It’s understandable that Swift wouldn’t want to stream her music, but clearly this is a tactic she, and many other artists are choosing to adopt so people will have to pay for their music. Although, take One Direction, whose new album just surfaced. The day of their album’s release, they put it out on Spotify for everyone to enjoy. One Direction is at somewhat the same level as Swift in the industry, in the sense that they are basically their own brand as well as the biggest boy band in the world at the moment. This leads me to two other very important questions: Is music not for everyone to hear and enjoy? And should music be something that holds a higher value, making some music and artists ‘better’ than others?
She says she believes in the value of music, so she does not think it should be streaming without a price. “I just don’t agree with perpetuating the perception that music has no value and should be free.” Says Swift, defending her decision that she in which she is extremely adamant on. Spotify, after some time then released their rebuttal in saying, “We believe fans should be able to listen to music wherever and whenever they want, and that artists have an absolute right to be paid for their work and protected from piracy,” (Rolling Stone). Which seems innocent and honest, but it is something Taylor simply does not want anything to do with. She wants control of her music, and we all want control of our things. Think about the things you may own; land, homes, cars, clothes, food, etc. We hate when people get their hands on our things, is it because we are selfish? Not necessarily. But think about it- If you let people borrow your car and allow them to make copies of your car keys, you’re not only kind of crazy, but you are also going to be extremely frustrated when you need your car and it’s out of gas.
This concept of property ownership is prominent in many everyday situations, while each form of claiming ownership may have its downside and seem pretentious in certain circumstances. How do we, as a society, judge what is an appropriate form of claim and what is not? Where do we draw the line and what exactly are the circumstances? How do these concepts relate to the entertainment industry specifically, and what do others in the industry think of such actions? What we have to think about is if this is something that could potentially change the future of the music industry, if it already hasn’t done so.
Swift broke a world record with 1989’s release, by selling over 1.3 million copies in only the first week. In just three weeks, she hit 2 million, and that is only as of November 17th. It is still currently at number one, in its 6th consecutive week, where it has sold 2.7 million physical copies alone (Rolling Stone). While trailing behind her are the Pentatonix with their Christmas album, That’s Christmas to Me, having sold over 408,000 copies. (Morris) It is clear that there sure is a huge gap between the first and second top grossing albums of the year, is Taylor’s plan working?
Her sales are rapidly increasing, and she’s far more ahead of the game than everyone else, but is this just because of her branded name, or is it because of her choice to depart from Spotify? Taylor’s two previous albums, Red, and Speak Now, have both also sold over the one million mark within their first week of release, making 1989 her third album to do so (Kcaulfield). So now we must take Taylor’s fame and the support of her fans into accountability as well as the music industry’s ongoing changes.
She claims she is doing this in the sake of music, because she believes that music is a unique artform. Why is it that there needs to be a set dollar price to put a value on something? Clearly many disagree with Swift, “Music is for everyone. I don’t care how anybody obtains it as long as they get it and enjoy and love it” Says musician Adam Levine. Many do view Swift’s pull from Spotify only as a way for her to profit from the album sales as well as break records and such. This is true, but only to a certain extent, Swift would be making at the least $6 million this year if she would have stayed with Spotify (Buzzfeed). She will be making money in an endless amount of ways; touring, selling merchandise, ad campaigns, fragrances, and the list is endless. Although, what about those who assist her in making this album happen? Taylor took them into consideration as well in her decision of music platform change, “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,” is what she tells Yahoo in defense of all those who would profit as well.
There is a concern that other artists will follow in the footsteps of removing themselves from online streaming, maybe not in the name of music’s value, but for other purposes. Just like as I have said before, in the sense of money, in which they believe they are not getting the compensation that they should be receiving. This has to do about apps like Spotify and Pandora’s royalty rates and if they should raise or lower them.
Record sales themselves are down by 13% this year, not making selling albums any easier for artists. Spotify and other streaming sites are a big threat to artist’s album sales, in fact in 2007, not long ago at all, the revenue for album sales in the US was at $500.5 million. Now in 2014, revenue has declined all the way down to $120.9 million (Statista). If that isn’t eye opening to us as consumers, imagine what a punch in the gut it is to artists and the music industry as a whole.
Understandably, concert ticket prices must increase as a result of the decline in album sales and with the industry slowly crumbling. The industry has always been polarized to some extent, but it is becoming more and more distant within itself as time goes on. From music genres, to concerts, and merchandise; all of these also factor in on the types of audiences and that will associate with certain musicians and artists. Ticket prices of course vary from artist to artist; for example, I would be able to go see the band All Time Low perform for $22. I would be up close to the stage, enjoy live music, and see a band that I love perform right in front of me. Now, I could also go see Beyoncé…if I sold my left arm, maybe. My one right arm with me would only be able to afford tickets that are light-years away from Beyoncé herself. What am I thinking, I would even be light-years away from the screen zooming in on Beyoncé. Therefore, I would be paying $342.67 (that’s just the average ticket price, for somewhere in the front you would literally be paying $1,095) to watch Beyoncé on a screen, through binoculars.
While I understand that many people really would love to watch Beyoncé and Jay-Z on a screen from the last row all the way on top of a football stadium, how can it be categorized with the same concert experience one like All Time Low? I could go to 16 of their concerts and have a good view and enjoy all 16 of those shows, for the same price as just the average On the Run tour ticket.
Of course Beyoncé and Jay-Z are a lot more famous than a small pop punk band, that’s a given. But does that make their music ‘better’ than a small band? Of course not. It’s all about exposure, publicity, and how could we forget- money. But why is it that the price of concert tickets must be associated with value? It is made so that some fans literally cannot afford a chance to ever see some of their favorite artists perform live. Beyoncé is kind of in the same boat as Taylor is with Spotify. She held off putting her latest self-titled album on Spotify, and while her case wasn’t as extreme as Taylor’s was with pulling all of her music, I can’t help but wonder why she has chosen just now to finally put it on Spotify.
Where exactly do we place Swift and others like her in the music industry, if there even is one? It would seem quite strange to place someone like Taylor Swift in the same category as say a small town band which still practices in their parent’s garage. Yet their music is on Spotify, they have their own album sales, but they don’t go on to expand in a way these large name artists do. It’s all still music, yet it seems strange that they are both considered the same industry.
Extreme price ranges can separate an artist’s fan base dramatically. Even though there are football stadiums filled with fans to watch these artists as well as small bars with a cover charge to see a local act, the crowds are completely different. Pricing has its way to create a certain audience. I’m not saying that a fan who can’t afford a ticket to go see someone like Beyoncé is not a fan, because that’s ridiculous. What I’m saying is that they are less likely to go to the concert, creating a certain kind of crowd that may or may not seem fair or just in a way. The truth is that even if someone can’t afford it, they’ll find a way to if they really want to.
What this makes me think of in particular is Coachella. Everyone wants to go to Coachella. Okay, well, maybe not everyone. But this Californian music festival is usually held during two weekends in April. When Coachella rolls around there are endless pictures floating around on Tumblr and the rest of the internet, but the people we see there for the most part are celebrities. Coachella is an extremely expensive festival, which brings us to why we mainly associate it as a music festival for celebrities and ‘hipsters’ in designer clothes. A pass for one weekend at Coachella ranges from $375 (general admission passes) all the way to, believe it or not, $4,800 for a VIP festival combo pass. This is for one weekend, double those prices for both weekends. Why is this festival so expensive? Because it has targeted its specific audience and market, and they know they’ll spend the money to go.
From the statistics of album sales’ decline in the U.S., clearly our CD industry is not doing so well, but in other parts of the world it is a different case. On television we often hear the phrase “I made it big in Japan!” or “You’re number one in Japan!” being said by some hopeful musician and it’s often taken as some kind of joke. What usually happens to this person who becomes number one in Japan is that they go, seem to waste their time and money, and end up not having what they hoped for when they come back to the states. But this isn’t the case- Japan’s music industry is actually booming. They’re doing it right and they’re the ones that are makin’ all the dough.
This is due to many things, like for starters items are much more expensive in Japan. CD albums alone are around $30 (3000 yen) for them, and a single song on iTunes is usually a dollar more than what we spend ($2.50), sometimes singles even being sold for $4. They also have no way to escape buying these things and paying these ridiculous prices, illegally downloading isn’t really a thing in Japan…yet. As opposed to America where you can practically illegally download your own damn friends if you’re ever feeling that lonely. With 85% of all sales going to the purchases of CDs, Japan has resisted to move to online music, they are still going strong with their use of CDs. Therefore since most people are still paying full price for music in Japan, it hasn’t put a dent into their music sales like it has here (Swarts).
Prices on CDs also stay pretty consistent in Japan due to fixed pricing, there are rarely discounts on them because discounting music products has been legally protected. This fixed price hasn’t changed in the past decade. The CD obsession in Japan has a lot to do about fan loyalty, which we think about differently in the US, but in Japan, it sure ain’t no joke. Their $30 purchase soon turns into $90 because they can’t just get one CD if they’re a loyal fan. Multiple formats of an album by certain major artists are put out there every once in a while, there can be three different variations of them. It could be a CD with a concert DVD, a CD with a 40 page booklet, or a CD with a DVD that has behind the scene footage and music videos. “Sometimes, they’re just buying another version for alternate cover art. It’s not cheap being a dedicated music fan in Japan.” Says Alan Swarts of evolver.fm. So, if you’re a loyal fan in Japan you need all three versions in order to complete the collection- there’s no messing around with that (Swarts).
Many sources say the US and everyone else should hop on board and stop with all the digital downloading, but illegal or not, I have a hard time believing that everyone will go back to physical CDs. I’m all about the physical aspect of ownership, like CDs and books, I was never, nor do I think I will ever get into Kindles and eBooks. But besides all of that, having everything digital makes things so much easier, and that’s what people want- at least Americans do. We like things easy, fast, and in the palm of our hands. No one is going to feel like driving to the store to pick up a CD when they can just open up their laptops and do it right from there.
This leads me back to Taylor and her dislike for streaming, which is different yet of course the same as digital. Clearly it’s digital, but the fact that it’s free is what Taylor claims decreases the value of her work. But does she prefer the Japanese craze in physical ownership of music, is that how one would be able to determine value as well? Maybe it isn’t the actual money value, but maybe it’s this retro vintage fad that has been going on lately. Maybe Taylor wants her work to be ‘vintage’ and held onto for years and years on end. Maybe one day when we’re all old and sorting through hoarded stacks of objects in our basements we will stumble upon 1989 and that would be its value. I’m wondering with you on this one, but I suppose only artists know the answer to all of these questions.
No artist is the same as the next, even without thinking about all their different genres and styles, the ‘industry’ varies in many ways. With all the differences in music genres, recording, touring, and the musical process in general, how would we be able to get all of these people on the same track as in choosing how they want to share their music? We simply can’t.
So I hop into the car in order to drive another two and a half hours back home, I part from school and once again plug in my phone. I have Spotify, and I have Taylor’s CD (I gave in). Something ‘old’ and something ‘new’, but music still seems to be music as I listen along to these interchangeably, even though it is annoying to switch back and forth. Although, they seem to have the same value to me. The only difference is that I, a college student rolling around in years of debt, paid $19 for one of them.
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