Should My Band Be On Spotify? (Part 1)

AKA Good Question.

Photo: Sorosh (Flickr)

(Part 1 of 2)

If there’s one thing people in independent bands seem to love doing it’s getting on the internet and arguing about / reading about the ‘realities of the music business in 2012’.

Do you know how I know this?

Because people are writing about it everywhere, me included (kind of). We live in a time where rock ’n’ roll does have a manual and that manual is the internet. Also, we live in a time where a lot of people make music for leisure and as such they work for a living in offices, bored, online, reading/posting about the ‘realities of the music business in 2012’.

And so it goes.

But from this near-endless miasma of advice and opinion, I still can’t find the answer to this damn question: ‘Should my band be on Spotify?’

I can find plenty of opinions and ideas.

And I can summarise all these ideas into a single word: maybe.

But my band mates and I are seriously thinking about Spotify. I know it’s hard to imagine a band that calls its album ‘Real Pain Supernova’ doing anything seriously (especially thinking) but it is happening.

Opinions are mixed – and loosely held – but they roughly fall across these two lines of thinking:

#1 Should we ignore Spotify and embrace a form of Luddism?

#2 Should we embrace Spotify and ignore the fact that it might be the single biggest fraud ever perpetrated upon our working brother and sister musicians?

Hard to know what to do when the questions are this annoying.

#1 Should we ignore Spotify and embrace a form of Luddism?

I’m starting with the easier one.

Ignoring Spotify is easy. We’ve done it for a while now without incident. We’ve sold most of the records we’ve made, we can play shows, we can tour (a bit), we can record and have nice things. What do we need with Spotify? Where’s the problem?

Me, I think. I’m the problem.

I’m far from the most technology savvy member of my band but I love Spotify as a listener. I have not plugged in my external hard-drive since getting it. I know full well that what some pundits suspect about the Spotify user base is completely true: If a particular album is not on there, I don’t go and hunt it down online, I just listen to something else in-app. Why? Because ‘something else’ is right there on hand:

I can play 1 of the 31 Melvins albums, 1 of 10 Fugazi albums.

I can play and embed Blanck Mass:

Or I can play and embed Blank Realm:

Or Black Boned Angel the band:

Or Black Boned Angel by Godflesh:

And so on. As you can see, it’s not really directing my listening as it is – already – an incredibly broad and comprehensive collection of music. More broad and comprehensive than any MP3 collection I’ve ever owned. It’s also a better organised collection than my iTunes library and is available wherever I go.

In addition to which, as a musician, most of the downsides don’t worry me. There are wider issues (which I’ll turn to later) but for my band there are no real concerns.

But Ian, the low royalty? Think of THE ROYALTIES! Ian? You want royalties!

(What? I drifted off there for a second.)

No. Sorry. My digital sales in a calendar year have never exceeded the combined fees from two halfway decent live shows.

Let me just repeat the math so we’re clear:

Average show fee for 2 x rock show > total annual digital income of combined catalogue.

Added to which, I have an economics degree.

From this background, I kinda think the market value of streaming MP3 data probably is around $0.005 US per stream at present. That’s what it’s worth in dollar terms.

We live in a world where digital piracy/sharing is easy and widespread. As musicians, we’re a decade into competing – at all times – with albums that cost $0/unit to own. This is actually happening. It’s not science fiction. It’s a daily reality and I’m so fucking bored of reading the ranting, railing fantasies of ‘What could happen‘ that I could scream. FACT: From the moment my band started, every time we put out a record the listener could ignore us and just go download Funhouse by The Stooges for free instead. This has actually happened on planet Earth, where I play music.

So tell me pundits, why is Spotify such a big line in the sand? And why now? Sell me on why I should estrange myself for an audience that includes me just because this new thing is as bad as everything else?

I don’t get it.

Also, I already stream the band’s entire back catalogue for free elsewhere. Have done for years. This is a little different, sure. But not that different.

But Ian, what about the cost of putting your music on Spotify?

It costs about $40-50 per album by all reports. Yeah, that blows. It doesn’t bode well for the future profitability of the Spotify model if digital distributers won’t place my record on Spotify for a percentage of future sales. But then again, they didn’t do it for iTunes either and it seems to be going okay.

That said, ideologically speaking, I’m not sure anything hurts my feelings worse than handing over money to be a part of the biggest, grubbiest music store ever invented.

It seems wrong.

It probably is wrong.

But…if the paragraphs above didn’t give it away, I’m a bit of a realist and a stoic when it comes to my band’s recorded output. The priority is getting it out there. Not by any means possible but certainly by the most effective means possible. And as I’ve talked about before, while I’m a bit more protective of the live show, I’m much more amenable with the recorded output. I mean, doesn’t a pile of noise like No Anchor sorta sound like a No Anchor song no matter where you hear it?

(PS: Except that they all sound better on vinyl. Cha-ching!)

ANSWER TO QUESTION #1: Yahoo. Fuck it. Let’s do it!

Answer to Question #2 (Should we embrace Spotify and ignore the fact that it might be the single biggest fraud ever perpetrated upon our working brother and sister musicians?): That’s later in the week. Because my head hurts. And because it’s writing about online delivery platforms on the internet, something I believe should be done in moderation. Also, I don’t know the answer yet.


5 thoughts on “Should My Band Be On Spotify? (Part 1)

  1. While I don’t want to be the first to comment… reading this has clarified one thing for me.

    …and that is that as a member of a band (as in multiple musicians making music together) – I stand on the side of not caring about the listener. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy that they’re out there but I want a record/single/document that physically exists because music is totally ephemeral (in a similar way that the internet is and only exists in the moments when you are interacting with it). When I make something that I am proud of I want evidence of its existence that for me, will last. This means focusing my efforts towards making something (selfishly) for myself and not creating something primarily for consumption by others.

    This also means I don’t care about piracy and file sharing because I’ve got my document to keep and or share. Sure given the already existing structure of music production, it makes economic sense to manufacture quantities larger than say three or four (unless you’re in a band with 200 member or more) which will create a return on the investment of physically creating a musical document. I also don’t care how far, wide, or unheard my band becomes. That’s for others to invest their time and energy on. But! It does leave a bad taste in my mouth to pay someone the equivalent of a promotional fee to share my music around when there’s plenty of free models already in existence. Is delivery all about convenience and should the most convenient method be the one that is strived for?

    Essentially though (for me), whether you should be on Spotify or not is not even about Spotify… it’s just the latest way to frame a question older than even the internet: what are your motivations for what you create. Do you want to be popular to others (even on a small cult scale)? That question meaning: do you want to be creative to feed the desire to create or create to show others what you’ve created. The two are most definitely not mutually exclusive but you should know where you stand and be cool with that – even if there’s no consensus within your band!

  2. ^ This is AG from my band, for those following along at home. #real talk. I’m glad he posted this here because even though I say it virtually every time I mention my band, my views certainly don’t represent the views of the band as a whole.

    I’m not going to answer his questions or address each point. That would feel entirely too prescriptive; in NA his views have the same weight as mine. Instead I encourage you to consider them yourself.

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