Spotify stopped streaming Taylor Swift’s music at her request Monday, setting up a business struggle between the leading purveyor of a new music distribution system and the industry’s most popular artist.
The music streaming service sounded like a spurned boyfriend in a statement announcing the split. It said Swift’s management told it to pull the music late last week and it was done Monday, so all of her songs are no longer available to its 40 million users.
“We were both young when we first saw you, but now there’s more than 40 million of us who want you to stay, stay, stay,” Spotify said. “It’s a love story, baby. Just say yes.”
A spokeswoman for Swift, whose single Shake It Off was the most-played song on Spotify last week, did not immediately return a call for comment.
The decision means that a large number of fans will have only one option to hear Swift’s new album, 1989, and that’s to buy it, which hundreds of thousands of people have already done. Music’s most influential artist is simultaneously making a political statement and a savvy business move.
More than 700,000 people bought 1989 in the first two days it went on sale last week, according to Nielsen SoundScan. That already exceeds the year’s biggest one-week seller, Coldplay’s Ghost Stories, which sold 383,000 in May. Nielsen music analyst David Bakula said Swift, who announced Monday that she would launch a world tour next year, is on pace to challenge the 1.2 million copies she sold the first week her last album, Red, went on sale.
Music streaming services and file sharing have sharply cut into music sales for artists over the past couple of years. Many artists complain that the fees Spotify pays to record labels and music publishers, with a portion eventually funneled to musicians, is too small.
The 1989 album has never streamed on Spotify, although Shake It Off was allowed on the service. All of the music Swift has officially released in her career, including Shake It Off, was pulled on Monday.
Swift’s move has precedence. She briefly pulled Red from Spotify around the time that album came out, although she didn’t remove her entire catalogue and Red eventually appeared on Spotify. This summer, Swift wrote in the Wall Street Journal that artists should fight to be paid what they are worth.
“Music is art, and art is important and rare,” Swift wrote. “Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for. It’s my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album’s price point is. I hope they don’t underestimate themselves or undervalue their art.”
Spotify says nearly 70 per cent of the revenue it receives from paying customers goes back to rightsholders in the form of royalty payments and the more people who pay for Spotify the more money artists get. People pay US$9.99 a month for Spotify’s premium streaming service.
But artists are getting more vocal in their complaints about how music streaming is damaging their ability to make a living. Singer Rosanne Cash, in a Facebook post this fall, called music streaming “dressed-up piracy.”
“I’m in this business and I see young musicians give up their missions and dreams all the time because they can’t make a living,” Cash wrote. “Someone has to speak up for them.”
It’s unclear whether Swift’s move will start a trend with other musicians, many of whom might not want to risk cutting their fans off from a way of hearing music that’s growing increasingly popular. It’s similar to when several artists were reluctant to let their music become available on iTunes when that service started out, although most eventually came around, said Keith Caulfield, associate director of charts and sales at Billboard magazine.
Swift “is in a fairly unique situation,” Caulfield said.