Thursday, November 06, 2014

Ain't No Sunshine When Taylor Swift Is Gone From Spotify

I remember the day in May 2003 when Marley came into the computer lab in Founders Hall. "Did you hear the news?" I asked him. "What news?" Marley asked. "You didn't hear that Apple sold it's one millionth song on the iTunes store today?"

Like many of his classmates in those days Marley loved the Napster software people used to download any song they wanted without paying. As a school technology administrator I battled students who installed the software on our network and used it to share and download files.

Marley was a musician. We had long conversations about what it would be like when he grew up and tried to make a living selling his music.

Little did we know Apple wouldn't just clean up the Napster mess, they figuratively knocked it out of the ballpark.
“Hitting one million songs in less than a week was totally unexpected,” said Roger Ames, Warner Music Group’s chairman and CEO. “Apple has shown music fans, artists and the music industry as a whole that there really is a successful and easy way of legally distributing music over the Internet.” 
“Our internal measure of success was having the iTunes Music Store sell one million songs in the first month. To do this in one week is an over-the-top success,” said Doug Morris, Universal Music Group’s CEO. “Apple definitely got it right with the iTunes Music Store.”
And the music business rode the wave all the way to the bank. In less than 10 years Apple reached 25 billion songs sold by then selling over 21 million songs a day, churning out numbers that sounded more like the marketing cry of a fading hamburger chain.

Meanwhile Metallica and Dr. Dre took the battle against pirating music to the American people and courts and plenty of people were complaining about digital rights management and how much Apple makes off of their sales.

One friend told me he bought the albums, then he bought the CDs, but he will not fork out another penny to purchase the third copy as a digital download.

All this confusion clouds the biggest change in music toward streaming services. Despite the big numbers of digital downloads streaming music is on the rise. Rolling Stone reported this week that album sales are down and single track sales are down, but paid subscriptions services rose 57% last year.

Meanwhile, Napster has morphed over the years and is now joined by the Pandora's, Spotify's, and Rhapsody's of today's online music world offering free and subscription based streaming music services. In the battle for ears and subscriptions Rhapsody acquired Napster in 2011 to compete with industry leader Spotify.

But Taylor Swift seems to think these music services are not giving the artists their fair share so she decided to pull her entire music catalog from Spotify this week. Swift is just the latest in a line of musicians to criticize Spotify saying they don't operate in the best interest of artists.

While Spotify went public literally begging Swift to come back, music lovers are left once again wondering what they should do.

Young people don't see the need to support the concept of paying for recorded music and the YouTube generation would rather spend their time listening to their own for free.

I contacted Marley and found out he's now working for Rhapsody/Napster in the San Francisco Bay Area. Could it be he was right all along? Do musicians need to find a way to make money other than through their recorded music? The Grateful Dead found a way to do that through their concert tours.

Or, is it simply that the technology has advanced in such away that the added features of streaming music have changed users tastes and patterns to the point that they no longer want to have a pile of records to play preferring instead to have access to any song at all times and in any place they want to listen?

I believe there is a change in the wind but it is still not settled. Recently I had the pleasure to see the new film Take Me To The River about the history of the Memphis blues music scene. In the film classic blues musicians came together with some of today's top rap and hip hop artists to learn from each other and record music mashups of some of the greatest songs of the modern music era.

Take a look at this clip of Bobby "Blue" Bland and Yo Gotti performing Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine."

We are in a time in between then (before all this technology) and an unknown future. We will always have artists and their work will only get better. Take Me To The River is an example of bringing together the beauty and wonder of the past with the best and brightest of today's young artists who embrace the technology while respecting the past.

To me that shows there is hope for the future whether or not you can listen to Taylor Swift on Spotify.