When Spotify came into being three years ago, there were two strong and starkly different opinions about the issue of offering, essentially, free music to anyone with internet access. One camp lamented the downfall of the music industry with the advent of this profit-killing service. The other side praised Spotify as a vehicle to put unknown and underrepresented artists into the conversation, giving them a voice in the music world when they would otherwise be lost in the fray.
I was admittedly a part of the first camp, though I completely took advantage of the prospect of the dying industry and listened to any and all albums Spotify could possibly give me. If the music industry was riding the proverbial bomb to hell, I was going down with it. Then one day, I took a look at my bank account and noticed something rather surprising. Since listening to Spotify, I had purchased more music through iTunes than I had the previous year, by a substantial margin. Why? I had every song that I ever wanted at my fingertips, and I still felt compelled to buy music. What sort of witchcraft was this Spotify, anyway?
Apparently, I am not the only crazy one out there. According to a recent article released by Rolling Stone magazine, music sales experienced an increase of .3% in 2012. The industry has not seen an increase like this since 1999, with the incarnation of Napster. (Music: Sales See First Gain in 13 Years, Rolling Stone). But why? Spotify is our free music utopia! I, along with some other pretty nerdy people, have come up with a few theories that could explain this shift in the pendulum.
Spotify Is a Tool (in a good way):
Before the creation of services like Spotify, Deezer, and MOG, people relied on friends’ recommendations, word of mouth, or the radio to dictate what was and was not listened to. God forbid your friends acquired terrible taste in music. Your only avenue to album acquisition was to borrow their less-than-decent albums and hope that their obsession with 98 Degrees or Nickelback would not rub off. You tried to branch off into uncharted music territory, but without the ability to listen to an entire album before purchasing it, enjoyment turned into anxiety.
There was no way out of that sinkhole, but now with services like Spotify, you have the entire world of music all to yourself to peruse. You heard from a friend about El Sportivo & the Blooz and their new album Nights and Weekends, and now you have the option to listen to it all at your leisure. (I am being that friend to you right now. Go check them out if you know what is good for you.) I browse Spotify regularly to turn me on to new bands I have never heard before, bands that have subsequently turned into my favorites, and I am more willing to spend money on favorites.
Subscriptions Count Too:
Subscriptions to music resources like Spotify contributed to that .3% increase in music sales last year. According to Spotify, they have over 5 million subscribers of their premium service, which allows users to access Spotify on mobile devices as well as the computer. For $125 a year, consumers can access and download songs through their mobile devices for online streaming and offline listening. But will the artists be paid?
Spotify pays their aritsts royalties for the number of listens and the status of popularity the artist displays in the service. The more listens, the more the musician gets paid. For those who continue to use the free service, Spotify will pay the artists based on advertisement revenue (source: Spotify.com). So stream the hell out of Atlas Genius’ new album, When It Was Now, and feel a little better about it.
What If the Internet Dies:
So with such access to all this music, why are crazy people like me still buying songs through iTunes, or, even more shockingly, at record stores? I have my own delusional reason for this phenomenon, and you probably do, too. Some people just like owning the songs that they stream online. What if, in some sort of tax-evading scheme, I run off to a deserted island to create a new identity, and this said island has no internet access or knowledge of Spotify? Or what if the internet just ceases to be (knock on so much wood)? Having the .mp3 files living on my computer gives me the peace of mind that, if found in this unfortunate circumstance, I will not be completely without.
Purchasing the songs also gives you a sense of ownership, like you and the creator of the music now have a relationship that only cost $.99-$1.29 (per song) to forge. I felt like I was personally giving my money to Atoms for Peace when I bought their new album, Amok, yesterday. It gives a little humanity back to the digital age, and who wouldn’t want that?
With all of these options now at our fingertips, though we may be poor post-grad students who can barely afford a latte from Intelligencia Coffee, we can now choose to be a little more free-streamy and a lot less pirate-y.