Björk's ninth album Vulnicura has been out for about a month now, after an illegal online leak moved up the date of release. The album will also not be available on Spotify. Though I understand where she's coming from, it seems like she's just trying to slow down an already moving train. I think she might be missing the bigger picture.
Much of the material for Björk's new album is drawn from her emotional break up with a long-time partner. When asked about her choice to withhold it from Spotify she said that, when it was done, the idea of making it available to stream didn't feel right. "I don't know why, but it just seems insane." She went on to say that "It's not about the money; it's about respect, you know? Respect for the craft and the amount of work you put into it."
Björk's feeling's on Spotify are nothing new, she's joining a now growing cohort of established artists that are taking a stand against the music streaming service as a matter of principal. Björk has suggested that perhaps a service like Netflix could be a good model for music as well: "you go first to the cinema and after a while it will come on Netflix. Maybe that's the way to go with streaming. It's first physical and then maybe you can stream it later." It seems to be the process of releasing it into seemingly thin air, after years of hard physical toil that troubles Björk most.
Well musician Sam Duckworth may agree with Bjork, he recently explained how 4,685 Spotify plays of his last solo album earned him £19.22, but the question is just as much about how much streams of the album might earn him over the next 10, 20, 30 years. The way that Spotify works is that the money is divided up by percentage of total streams, as opposed to a unit-based model like iTunes or Amazon. D.A. Wallach who, granted, is also Spotify's "artist-in-residence" has explained that "people need to transition from unit-based thinking to consumption-based thinking in terms of royalties." He goes on to say that in the long term "what we are trying to create is a system in which you earn royalties forever for good music."
A non-mainstream artist like Zoe Keating has been vocal about how she earns her livelihood and her support for music streaming services, which she says she's never relied on solely to support herself. She says that her income is made up like a "patchwork quilt, and streaming is currently one tiny square in that quilt." She has said that "if people really like my music, I still believe they'll support it somewhere, somehow. Casual listeners won't, but they never did anyway."
Pitchfork's David Krukowski has argued that we ought to open all barriers to sharing digital content like a wild wild west of the music world. He hopes that in breaking down the antagonistic relationship between the corporate music business on one side and musicians and fans on the other, new cooperative forms of music sharing would arise.
The music industry is clearly in a very strange period of transition. No one really knows what's going to happen. Grammy-winner Beck has said that "streaming is inevitable, it's something that is coming, like it or not. But the current way isn't working, somethings gotta give."
Spotify is a great platform for new bands looking to gain exposure, but it might be just that, an avenue to get discovered but not to found a career. Artists have to be business savvy in other ways in order to earn a livelihood from their work, but they're not the only ones. The music industry is not the same as it was 10 years ago, and the world economy is not the same as it was 10 years ago. The music business is in no way isolated from the globalization affecting nearly every industry in our economy.
Placing blame on the fans is missing the real scope of the problem. Yes it is a real problem, yes it is an artistic tragedy, but it's also this thing that's happening to all of us. Industry middlemen are the one's raking it in, while artists are left out hustling to pay their electricity bills. The federal minimum wage for tipped workers is a pitiful $2.13, getting business owners essentially off the hook for paying their employees and placing the burden of their livelihood on patrons. Welcome to the land of late capitalism. Welcome to the shit storm.
So I guess what I'm saying to all musicians or artists out there who are struggling with this is yes take a stand but please, place your struggle in a larger context, now more than ever, it is all connected.