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Editorial: The music industry’s swift, painful shift

Platforms like Spotify, YouTube and Pandora connect listeners with their favorite artists at a limited cost and inexorably promote musical exploration and discovery. Yet music revenue in the United States has fallen from $38 billion in 2000 to $14 billion in 2014.

Musicians are livid and blame the Internet. Krystian Zimerman, the German classical pianist, reported furiously that his recording label Deutsche Grammophon would not let him record several Beethoven sonatas because there were YouTube videos of those works being performed. Radiohead’s Thom Yorke also spoke out against Spotify, tweeting: “Make no mistake new artists you discover on #Spotify will no (sic) get paid. Meanwhile shareholders will shortly being rolling in it. Simples.”

Spotify published a blog post Monday to defend its role in the industry. In it, the site quotes Quincy Jones, the producer of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, who stated, “Spotify is not the enemy; piracy is the enemy.” Napster and Limewire were shut down because they disseminated free, downloadable copies of content with no royalties to the copyrighted labels or artists. But does Spotify, the self-proclaimed solution, perpetuate a different model? Nicholas Payton, a jazz trumpeter, cites as the source of his outrage that Spotify provides between $0.006 and $0.0084 in royalties per stream, and while any amount is better than nothing, it is certainly much smaller revenue as compared to the $0.13 artists make from iTunes track purchases.

Since its founding in 2008, Spotify has paid about $2 billion in royalties to artists, payments which it claims would not have changed hands had piracy or buy-only models of listenership dominated the field. Spotify is unusual in that it actually pays money to artists and licensing fees to labels, unlike Grooveshark. Furthermore, as sales from downloads and physical CD downloads plummet in the United States, they are also plummeting in the Canadian market, where Spotify does not exist.

Precipitously discounted music download websites like and sell tracks for $0.15 and $0.10 legally by paying licensing fees to record labels and basing their servers and businesses in other countries. Mp3million is based in Ukraine, but it sells to consumers in England, Canada, the United States and Europe. The licensing structure allows the site to offer a wide selection of both popular and rare music at a much lower price.

All of these forces are pushing down the cost of music for the consumer and making it more readily available. Of the sites that contribute to decreasing revenues for musical artists, Spotify seems the least damaging. Fledgling artists need initial revenue streams to finance tours, complete recordings and promote themselves. But Spotify promotes artists and allows for the sharing of music through social media and its own internal system. Buying music certainly gives artists more leverage in recording new material and introducing new albums, but Spotify helps give artists the exposure they need to be successful.

The one thing Spotify is certainly guilty of is turning up the heat, thereby tightening the competition. With so much music out there, one really has to pick and choose, and the music business seems much more unforgiving to the up-and-comings and the older, not-in-vogue musicians than ever before.


Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Alexander Kaplan ’15 and James Rattner ’15, and its members, Natasha Bluth ’15, Manuel Contreras ’16, Baxter DiFabrizio ’15, Manuel Monti-Nussbaum ’15, Katherine Pollock ’16 and Himani Sood ’15. Send comments to



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