Artists Still Control the Music Economy

Artists can still make money making music.

Taylor Swift’s album, 1989, which racked up 1.287 million copies sold in it’s first week, is proof of that. But Swift’s story tells us more about the so called “new music economy.”

In the week prior to her album release, Swift and her record label removed all of her recordings from Spotify and other music streaming services, which have been notorious for shafting artists on streaming royalties, paying the average copyright holder somewhere in the range of $0.60 to $0.84 per payout. It is safe to say that, had Swift chosen to keep her music available for streaming, her album sales probably would have been cut in half. Instead, the decried move to step away from the streaming model resulted in a huge payoff for Swift and her label.

la-et-ms-first-week-for-taylor-swifts-1989-128-001Spotify urged Swift to be a part of what they called “the new music economy,” arguing that everyone should have access to Swift’s product. But what Swift, and other artists are beginning to realize is that the freemium model is centered around nothing by hype and Silicon Valley market disruption without a clear path forward for the artists and musicians who create music. Swift’s success shows us that music does not have to be free for artists to succeed, and that artists have a say in their financial success.

Artists and labels should be strongly considering moving away from free streaming, $1 stock music licenses, 29 cent downloads, and performances “for publicity.” Similarly, songwriters and composers should stop working for free and devaluing their work by giving it away for minuscule fractions of a penny. Artists and copyright owners have the power and ability to shape the future of the music business, and don’t have to feel pressured to conform to the tech industry’s sharing economy. Rights holders have just as much right to profit from their intellectual property as tech companies do from their technology patents. Whether an artist is selling albums, production music, or giving a concert, their hard work, training, and investment should factor into the retail price of the product they produce.

The fact that paying artists and musicians their fair share of royalties for streaming and downloads would undermine business models for free streaming and low-cost download providers sounds like a “you” problem for those companies, not the musicians whom they are trying to exploit.

Taylor Swift’s actions and subsequent success should be a wake-up call for musicians and record labels trying to compete in a music business that has been redefined by a bunch of 20 somethings in a warehouse loft in San Francisco. Stand up for what is yours – what you create is valuable, start acting like it.

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