So Spotify launched recently and it and its effects on artists were discussed recently on WNYC's Soundcheck. There's been other discussions about the "Cloud" and the legality and ethics about all these things.
To sum up the current situation, before iTunes, for over 50 or 60 years people had to go out and buy a record, LP, CD or whatever for some sort of beefy price. I did this for much of my youth. iTunes relieved the listening public from the obligation of having to buy full albums. We could buy the tracks we want and only those tracks.
From a record label perspective, this was an anattractive prospect. Not only were the big labels shipping millions of CDs around the world and because the public had no other means of consuming music – they happily bought them. So the labels resisted iTunes. No one is crying for those big labels, because they were never particularly generous to the artists anyway and their behavior has been pretty deplorable for a long time.
So for the last 10 years it's been interesting. The labels are suffering, both big and small independents, big record stores are almost no more (we don't really cry for them either as they put all the small shops out of business), and recording studios – like the Looking Glass Studio closed. One after another. Big and small disappeared. Laying off all the people who worked there.
In fact, every turn in this story means less jobs for everyone. It's not because of the collapse of stream of money going into the labels. It's because of the widely held view, our current reality, that one doesn't need to pay for music. I accept that most people view that as a reality. After all, isn't the radio free? Doesn't it provide promotion which in turn sells tickets to live shows.
So we know now more than ever that if there is any money to be made from recordings, it's in live shows. That still doesn't solve my problem, and others like me, of how to raise the capital to make new recordings.
My contention is that whether it's iTunes, Google, Spotify, Time Warner – whoever, I think they all think that having to deal with these issues of intellectual property as a big drag. In their opinion, they are in fact doing artists a favor by getting their names out to the public. Apple wants to sell computers, iPads, and iPods. Its profit margin is large on that type of sale far exceeds its profits from music sales. They barely pay for their own operations with the 30%, or 30 cents they take from a typical 99 cent download.
An interesting this has recently happened. The iTunes music market has reached a plateau. As CDs are almost gone, vinyl less than 1% of the market, and downloads on the decline – Amazon MP3 (arguably illegally, jumped the gun and) launched its Cloud Service. Apple later announced it came to terms with music labels to do that same and Google remains a player.
However, the service newly arriving on the scene is Spoitify which seems to have leapfrogged everyone with its great interface and limitless content. As the old big labels resisted iTunes, iTunes resisted change itself fighting for DRM free downloads. Make no mistake, they weren't protecting music, they were trying to protect their market share.
The typical return for someone listening to a track on iTunes is less than the 69 per song that one currently gets, and of course it's a long way from the $15.00 labels used to get for a record.
On Spotify, it's in fact fractions of one cent. So if someone listens to your song dozens times, the label will get 1 cent. The artist will get a small share of that.
There are insidious aspects to this story. One could ask, "Why allow one's music onto the service." The wealth of content on this service came from a deal the record labels made with Spotify. This wasn't discussed on last night's episode of Soundcheck. The labels received between $100-150 million dollars to turn over their catalogs. I'm almost certain that money will never make it to any specific artist, why would it? On top of that the artists frequently don't control the use of their music.
I am not sanctimoneously blindly screaming that artists "need to get paid for their work." I'm saying that without income coming to the artists of each generation, they will have no ability to create their work. The "content providers" will have no means to create content.
As I said, Apple and Google and everyone corporation views this scenario cynically, thinking that having to deal with this intellectual property and copyright is a big drag. And certainly there's more music than any one person could listen to in a lifetime.Perhaps it's not cynical – maybe there is simply too much content.
Every Mozart symphony has been recorded hundreds of times over…same with Beethoven, Mahler. The Beatles recording legacy is out there. And on an on. This is only a problem for those still alive, creating, and hoping to move forward.
Even-handedly I descirbed this scenario to a music-loving 88 year old friend of mine today, being careful to mention the end-user benefits of the service. He grasped the essence of the problem immediately. I said "This Spotify gives you, in your pocket, unlimited access to most every recording in the history of music." To which he responded, "But it also means you have no future. Who wants to live in a world with no future."
How does this effect listeners of Philip Glass' music? Well, quite a bit of it remains unrecorded. Thankfully he is a composer of pencil and paper and all his music is preserved, if not on recording.